I wrote my ass off in 2013, which means I listened to a lot of music. I also covered a lot of city miles, walking with the earbuds in, which means the same thing. Now I’m not really in my element when it comes to writing about music: To me it’s like describing emotions. It’s not like movies with me, where I can talk about how much I love them while still speaking analytically, like a student, and also riffing off them like a bad comic. Music is a singular experience for me; it’s straight to the heart, where movies hit my heart and my brain equally.
I’m making this list of my favorite albums of 2013 — in no real order — in case anyone who feels simpatico with my taste in movies might find a recommendation here they haven’t checked out yet. I made it albums over songs to keep it manageable. If I made a list of favorite songs, it’d be pages long. Hit me up in the comments; I’ll make you a mixtape. But if I had to name my single favorite song of 2013, it would probably remain this one.
Some of the albums I bought this year include Atoms For Peace, Beyoncé, Burial, Daft Punk, Fitz & The Tantrums, Flume, Iggy & The Stooges, Joseph Arthur, Kavinsky, The National, Neko Case, Nine Inch Nails, RJD2, Run The Jewels, and Talib Kweli. I also got that Jimi Hendrix album of unreleased songs. I don’t think that can count, although I’m not sure there are any rules here. Anyway, here we go.
Janelle Monáe: The Electric Lady
Janelle Monáe is the closest thing we have right now to Prince, and I say that even though we still have the actual Prince. There’s not another artist I can think of making such buoyant, eccentric, genre-hopping music. As a live performer, she’s pure positive energy in human form. I like how her artistic through-line is the movie METROPOLIS. Mine is MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED. Which is maybe why it’s good thing I don’t make albums and she does. The song above is called “Primetime.”
Mark Lanegan: Imitations
Mark Lanegan fronted an alternative band in the 1990s and has in recent years become a go-to featured player for a variety of artists who are looking for his distinctive gravelly growl. Lanegan writes and sings like a man who has stared into the dark heart of midnight. It’s sometimes chilling and often profound to hear the cold rasp of his instrument. I like his originals, but this is an album of covers, pf songs made famous by folks like Vern Gosdin, Nancy Sinatra, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, and Nick Cave (more on him in a second.) As usual, Lanegan’s approach to music very specifically captures both the fragility and the strength in heartache. The song above is “I’m Not The Loving Kind.” It’s a John Cale cover.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Push The Sky Away
Even by the standards set by the inimitable Nick Cave, this album is spooky, ominous, and frigid. His records often sound like dispatches from the edges of the world. This one sounds like a looming apocalypse. As ever, there are many moments of funereal swagger and jet-black humor, but by the time he gets around to mentioning Miley Cyrus floating in a swimming pool in Toluca Lake, without mentioning the specifics of her vital signs, it’s hard to escape the sense that Cave is reminding us how we’re all ultimately doomed as a species. The song is “Higgs Boson Blues.”
Jean Grae: Gotham Down
Jean Grae is one of the most innovative, confident and nimble lyricists in hip-hop, an absolute thrill on every single verse she turns out. In earliest 2013, she released Dust Ruffle, a collection of previously unreleased tracks, and didn’t slow down from there. Gotham Down is an ambitious three-album cycle, released independently and telling a continuous story about a futuristic assassin. You can get the whole thing here. The song above is “Kill Screen.”
Ghost B.C.: Infestissumam
In 2013, the new Pope was named Time’s Person Of The Year. In a possibly unrelated story, the lead singer of Swedish metal band Ghost B.C. calls himself Papa Emeritus. While the rest of the band are hooded figures known as Nameless Ghouls, Papa Emeritus wears papal robes and a cardinal’s hat over his face, which is painted black and white like a skull. The theatrics wouldn’t mean much if the music wasn’t awesome. Surprisingly, this isn’t the heaviest metal you’ve ever heard. To me, they sound more like Blue Öyster Cult than anything else. That’s a lot funnier than if they were to sound like Slayer. The costumes add to the showmanship but the tunes are solid apart from the visuals. The song is “Secular Haze.”
Ghostface Killah: Twelve Reasons To Die
Another year, another Ghostface album on my list of favorites. Probably the most consistent artist in all of hip-hop, Ghostface is a killer storyteller and this album as a whole is more of a story than most. It tells the story of Ghostface’s character, a mob enforcer for the DeLuca family in 1960s Italy. He falls in love with the capo’s daughter and gets gunned down, only to take his revenge. What? Is there a problem? The melodies may sound like vintage soul samples, but they were produced by Adrian Younge, a composer who did the score to BLACK DYNAMITE, among other amazing things. The story continues in an accompanying comic book series; hopefully another collaboration is upcoming soon. The song is “Enemies All Around Me.”
Kanye West: Yeezus
I love Kanye. If Kanye himself can’t stop me from loving Kanye, then surely none of y’all can. People dog Kanye for his public persona, his arrogance, but I don’t know… Is he wrong? As long as his music is this creative, I don’t care how he talks in interviews. I listen to the albums. I’ve been listening to his stuff since he was a producer only; I bought his first album the day it came out, as I’ve done ever since. A lot of people I know have trouble with Kanye because they had a vision of what they wanted him to be; a conscious rapper, in the mode of Black Star, or Common, or some of the other artists he worked with as a producer. I admit I may have expected that too at first, but Kanye had a singular path in mind. He’s certainly a provocateur, which rubs more superficial minds the wrong way, but I kinda think we need to be provoked, in an era of TV singing competitions and bubble-headed pop singers. I don’t agree with everything Kanye is about, but I don’t have to. His ambition is to art, and art rarely brings consensus. You get to decide for yourself how you feel about it. Currently, Kanye’s art seems to be addressing the topic of fame. Is it a coincidence that Kanye hooked up with the Kardashians and made his angriest album yet? I kinda don’t think so. It’ll be interesting to see where he goes next. You may not agree. But you probably won’t be bored.
The song, as you most likely know already, is “Bound 2.”
Blue Sky Black Death: Glaciers
This is an intriguing case, a two-man team of producers who create music for hip-hop artists which is equally listenable as instrumental music. They’ve worked with the aforementioned Jean Grae, as well as less famous rappers like Nacho Picasso and Deniro Farrar, and more famous rappers like Cam’Ron. The Blue Sky Black Death sound is epic and colorful, and will no doubt score one hell of a movie scene one day, but it equally fits the heightened drama of hip-hop. Glaciers is an instrumental album, one which makes Blue Sky Black Death the first hip-hop producers to evoke Brian Eno, the Cocteau Twins, or Vangelis. This is the first hip-hop-based music I can name which sounds equally good working out or zoning out. The song is “IV.”
Xander Harris: The New Dark Age Of Love
My favorite discovery of the year, Xander Harris is as prolific as Blue Sky Black Death, which means there was a lot of music to dig up and enjoy all year. Buffy The Vampire Slayer fans may recognize that name. It indicates the intention. This is an artist more influenced by Lovecraft and Carpenter than Dylan or Lennon, an electro-spin on spooky orchestration. Check out Black Moon, the three-song EP Xander Harris put out at Halloween time. And The New Dark Age Of Love is a spectral masterpiece. If you’re like me and you like to listen to Goblin soundtracks from July to December, Xander Harris is the motherlode. I’ve been inspired to come up with three or four movie ideas while listening to this music, and I couldn’t ask for anything more from an artist. The song is “When Prophecy Fails.”
Demon Queen: The Exorcise Tape
Not really sure how to explain this one. It’s a weirdo. I don’t even remember how this album came to me. I only know that I like its style. Two beings, presumably humans, made it, and their names are Tobacco, from the band Black Moth Super Rainbow, and Zackey Force Funk. I got that from Google, dude. I don’t know what to do with the information, except to direct adventurous listeners to this album. As the name implies, it sounds like angry aerobics for ghosts and goblins, or a porno score to a 1980s skin flick starring skeletons and zombies. It’s louche-sounding electro-lounge music, really difficult to pigeonhole (which now sounds like a perverted term by proximity). I like movies to show me things I’ve never seen before, and I like music to give me sounds I’ve never heard before. This surely fits that bill. The song is “Love Hour Zero.” In the video, a disembodied boob goes on an adventure.
So that’s it. Here’s to a musical 2014!