Better late than never, right?
Everyone has already put out their Best of 2013 lists, and while I’m not doing that exactly, I did want to mention a few albums that I didn’t write about in 2013.
In no particular order:
London Grammar – If You Wait
The synth-pop extraordinaires. I was a little late to this album, but am totally in love with it. I unashamedly love pop music, but top forty pop is so lacking lately, in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, “Wrecking Ball” is actually a really good pop song, but because the video is now seared into my brain, I just can’t vibe with it. Anyway, for the past few years I’ve found myself moving further toward the synth end of pop. London Grammar is a British trio made of Hannah Reid, Dot Major, and Dan Rothman. If we lived in England we could call them a trip hop group, but sadly we don’t and I don’t think anyone in America uses that term.
London Grammar creates this powerful ambient sound that grows incredibly with Hannah Reid’s raspy, brooding voice. The biggest thing this album has for me is balance. It has the slow build and quietness of the xx, but the strength and complexity of Reid’s voice lifts the whole album to another level. A few favorite tracks (though I love the whole album):
- “Strong” showcases LG’s balancing act, especially as the lyrics mention the tensions of being caught in the middle.
- “Sights” is a perfect soundtrack for winter as Reid sings, “keeping your strength when it gets dark at night”.
- “Wasting My Young Years” is the kind of song where you go, Damn, I’m glad no one wrote this about me.
- “Metal and Dust” does a great job exhibiting this group’s instrumentation.
And finally, Hannah Reid crushing this cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”.
Valerie June – Pushin’ Against a Stone
The country soulstress. I realize this isn’t a country album, strictly speaking, but it’s pretty country for me. That said, I am a big Valerie June fan. There are some parts where the album gets too country for me (“Tennessee Time”) but overall I really enjoy the whole thing. Dan Auerbach co-produced the record and co-wrote some of the songs. (Sidebar: are The Black Keys over? I wouldn’t mind if Dan Auerbach just keeps producing solid records.)
Valerie June does a great job at blending many genres: blues, folk, jazz, rock, it’s all in there. And it works. It’s gonna be hard to choose only a few tracks to highlight, but here we go:
- “Workin’ Woman Blues” is the opening track and one of my favorites. It might be because June’s lyrics feel familiar (as a working woman), but it could also just be that I fucking love when those horns come in. (Sorry for swearing. Watching Weeds and The Wire simultaneously makes me feel like a badass combination drug dealer/gangster/self destructive cop who says fuck a lot.) The music video is kinda lame, in my opinion, but don’t fault the song.
- “Somebody To Love” is a beautiful song to break your heart.
- “You Can’t Be Told” shows off June’s gritty, deep-down-in-your-soul sound.
- “Pushin’ Against A Stone” is the title track, and opens with this in-your-face guitar reverb.
- “Shotgun” is a haunting ballad that features June slaying on slide guitar. That live version isn’t great quality, but I think it’s worth seeing her perform this one.
In the year of Yeezus, I say this album has real swagger.
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
The indie rock band has proven its worth. Not only did I have fun listening to this album, I was impressed by it. Ezra Koenig showed us he could write lyrics with depth that were littered with spiritual questions. Plus he wrote that hilarious review of Drake. Some favorites:
- “Everlasting Arms” – This song is deceptive. It’s packaged in upbeat, poppy sounds, but the subject matter is a serious consideration of serving a master (God) and that master’s benevolence. The chorus, “Hold me in your everlasting arms” is a pretty obvious play on the hymn “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms”. Then there’s the line, “I hummed the Dies Irae as you played the Hallelujah”. The Dies Irae is a centuries old hymn about Judgment Day. Make of that what you will.
- “Finger Back” is sort of a throwback track to me; it has that old VW sound a la “A-Punk”. And yet it still features the new contemplative Ezra Koenig as he recounts a story of an Orthodox girl who falls in love with a falafel shop employee, who we assume is not Orthodox. The Internet will suggest the employee is of Arab descent, and this song is actually about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (because, you know, the first two stanzas are obviously about torture and fighting) buuuuuut I’m not signing my name on that yet.
Overall, really enjoyed this album and applaud this band’s growth.
Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady
I was playing this album at my Halloween party and some of my friends were all, “This is weird, what is this.” So I was all, “IT’S JANELLE MONÁE, AND IT IS WEIRD AND AWESOME.” Janelle Monáe is a post-modern pop, R&B, soul sensation. My favorite track:
- “Dance Apocalyptic” is a great example of why Monáe succeeds at being both weird and awesome. I often lament the fact that I live in a time when dancing = grinding and dance music = badly remixed pop songs. Even though the tempo is fast when compared to Motown, “Dance Apocalyptic” brings a Motown feel to the 21st Century, especially when Monáe sings, “Smash smash, bang bang / Don’t stop / Chalangalangalang”. The album version doesn’t have the apocalypse news break that the video features, but there’s an extra dose of weird for you.
My one complaint about this album is the interludes. Never been a big fan of them, and this album is already pretty long without adding three interludes. But overall, what a fun album.
Here’s hoping 2014 can be an even better year in music.