The Year In Music: Superlatives

In lieu of a traditional Top Albums of the Year list, Superlatives celebrates 2013’s many musical accomplishments with equally meaningless awards. Enjoy and don’t forget to check out What Cannon’s 50 Tracks of 2013. Links below. Thanks for participating in this little experiment. 

KANYE_WEST

Album of the Year (For The Haters)
Kanye West – Yeezus

You Read A Compelling Think Piece About…
Savages

Ambitious, Experimental Albums That Are Sometimes Indulgent and Sometimes Really Fun
The Knife – Shaking the Habitual
Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience

Ambitious, Experimental Albums From Bands I Really Loved in High School…
…or What’s A Boy To Do When There’s No More LCD Soundsystem
Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Play “Catch That Reference”
Action Bronson & Party Suppies – Blue Chips 2
Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap

ACTION_BRONSON

A Bromantic Excursion
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels

P.O.P. (Pursuit of Perfection)
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe

Most Well Deserved Overstatement
Drake – Nothing Was The Same

Three Jewish Sisters Who All Sound like Stevie Nicks Christine McVie…
…or Dreams Really Do Come True
Haim – Days Are Gone

HAIM_FLEETWOOD_MAC

All The Breath You Wasted on Miley Cyrus Could Have Been Spent Talking About…
Lorde – Pure Heroine

Really Excellent Folk Rock Albums With Really Long Titles
Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

Best Deadpan Delivery
Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas

The State of the Post-Punk Revival
Arctic Monkeys – AM
Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions

Where Were You In ’92?
Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana

Best McLusky Reference
Anti Parent Cowboy Killers” – Joanna Gruesome (from Weird Sister)

JOANNA_NEWSOM

Is That You, Jai Paul?
Jai Paul – Jai Paul

The Crutchfields
Swearin’ – Surfing Strange
Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt

The #1 Best Redundant Album Title of the Year Award
Pusha T – My Name Is My Name

A Snot Rocket Straight to the Heart
The So So Glos – Blowout

If Metaphors Were Dollars You’d Be Rich But Still Sad
Los Campesinos! – No Blues

Worst Album Art/Best Use of Gospel Choir
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito

KURT_VILE

Sleepy, Sad or Just Stoned
Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Ty Segall – Sleeper

Successfully Completed Musical Grand Slam
Deerhunter

Least Google-able Band Name
Perfect Pussy

Millennial’s Anthem
Stoned and Starving” – Parquet Courts (from Light Up Gold)

RHYE

The Hopeless Romantic’s Breakup Record
Rhye – Woman

The One You Love
Eleanor Friedberger

The One Who Loves You
Torres

For My Memories of the South…
Hiss Golden Messenger – Haw

…And My Dreams of the West
Mikal Cronin – MCII

Brits Do It Better
Palma Violets – 180

SACRED_BONES

Top 3 Sacred Bones Releases
Var – No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers
Milk Music – Cruise Your Illusion
The Men – New Moon

Oldies
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory

Late to the Party
Angel Olsen – Half Way Home
Waxahatchee – American Weekend
Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dream
Mac Demarco – 2
Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself
Matthew E. White – Big Inner

Don’t forget: every time you buy a record an angel gets its wings. If you like something you hear, buy it. Support independent artists.

What Cannon’s 50 Tracks of 2013…

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Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

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The Year In Music: Tracks Pt. 4

The fourth of five installments covering 50 standout tracks from 2013. Arranged in alphabetical order, this segment extends from trans-continental pop sensation Lorde to melancholy R&B enigma Rhye. Click the track names for music videos. Enjoy.

Lorde | “Royals”

ROYALSOnce I start, it’s very hard for me to stop talking about Lorde. In an article by Ann Powers of NPR Music, she compared the New Zealand teen to Kurt Cobain. While I still feel that these kinds of comparisons keep music criticism locked in the “it’s like ______ only with _______ instead of ________” mode that NPR is infamous for, I can pick up what Powers is putting down. “Royals” is easily the most inspiring earworm on the pop charts this year. While she may not have had the clout to compete with Miley Cyrus on the level of cultural ubiquity, Lorde inserted herself into the conversation about the state of pop and feminism in 2013 in much more effective, ingenious ways. This is the point where I usually say, “what can get lost in these kind of intellectual discussions is the actual quality of the music.” Luckily, that has not been as much a problem for Lorde as it has been for, say, Savages. With her vivid language (“tigers on a gold chain”) and her ability to channel the ennui and delight of adolescence, Lorde has captured something fleeting yet timeless. It is nothing less than youth itself.

Los Campesinos! | “Avocado, Baby”

AVOCADO_BABYGareth Paisey is indie rock’s unofficial king of figurative language. The lead singer and primary lyricist behind Los Campesinos!, Gareth’s metaphors are not only clever and highly original but also personally insightful and regularly packed with emotional roughage. “Avocado, Baby” derives its title from a comparison that you might have otherwise credited to Colin Meloy or Ben Gibbard. “A heart of stone/rind so tough, it’s crazy/that’s why they call me the avocado, baby,” Gareth hollers while fellow Campesino’s chime in about love so heavy that it explodes rib cages and breaks backs. Elsewhere Gareth brilliantly illustrates the terrible feeling of self-serious isolation and sadness when he casts himself as the host of a game show where the guests, all famous celebrities, won’t answer any of the questions. The punch line is just how important those answers are, signaling the crushing burden of feeling like everyone in your life is holding out on you. If metaphor, simile and poetry in general aren’t really your thing that, you might find comfort in Gareth’s promise that though things might not get better “that doesn’t mean it’s gonna get any worse.” A dour romantic, he still knows when to throw an arm around someone else’s shoulder if only to take his mind away from his own problems.

Marnie Stern | “You Don’t Turn Down”

THE_CHRONICLES_OF_MARNIARock goddess Marnie Stern makes metal for people who don’t like metal. Intricate guitar work balanced by sugar-sweet vocals, Marnie’s known for her dexterity if not necessarily her economy. This year’s The Chronicles of Marnia (the best-named album of the year) found her paring down her sound, stripping away a few tracks of guitar theatrics and focusing on atmosphere. Of course, if you’ve never listened to Stern and turn on “You Don’t Turn Down,” you might not immediately think “ah yes, this is frugal.” Kicking off with her characteristic string tapping followed by a cascade of drums and rugged guitars, “You Don’t Turn Down” contains several sharp changes of direction. It is a credit to Marnie’s improved songwriting chops that the different parts of this song don’t sound disparate. Rather, the entire song plays like a totally badass patchwork quilt of awesomeness. The problem with virtuosos is that they sometimes can’t write songs that deserve their own technical brilliance. With each new album, Marnie Stern’s songwriting is quickly catching up to her abilities as one of the best guitarists in indie rock.

Mikal Cronin | “Weight”

MCIIWhile Ty Segall took it easy this year with only two full length LPs (one solo, the excellent Sleeper, and the other as the drummer of side project #472, Fuzz), fellow San Fran collaborator and garage rock all-star Mikal Cronin released just one record, albeit a truly excellent one at that. “Weight,” the lead track from MCII, may have the same chord progression as and similar themes to Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark,” but it’s also one of the few stone cold classics to emerge this year. An infinitely replayable slice of exquisite pop bliss, existential doubt has never sounded this good. While nothing else on MCII quite reaches the same peaks, it hardly matters since “Weight” establishes the tone of celebration and reflection which permeate the entire record. While many people muse on their favorite tracks of a given album, in “Weight” you could find yourself arguing with a friend over the single greatest element of the song. Is it the pensive reflection in the lyrics that reaches down to the core of our uncertainty about our purpose, personal, artistic or otherwise? Is it the sweeping grandeur of the instrumental melody during the song’s climax? Is it the instrumental instinct that chose to start a garage rock stunner with cascading piano arpeggios? Ultimately, “Weight” is greater than the sum of all its impressive parts and demonstrates that while quantity can be a virtue, quality always takes the day.

Neko Case | “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu”

THE_WORSE_THINGS_GET“Nearly Midnight, Honolulu,” doesn’t resemble a single. For starters, it’s entirely acapella and its biggest moment contains a well-timed f-bomb. I suppose that hasn’t stopped other people. Still, the track was the first on Case’s latest album that really caught my attention. Neko is no stranger to original wordplay. Whether she’s taking a bus to the outskirts of the fact that she needs love or imploring God with candied fists, her lyric sheets read like songwriting guides written in a language only she can speak. Yet, “Nearly Midnight” stands out for how direct it is. Addressing the child of an abusive parent, she follows him/her through time in a wistful effort to ensure that they never silence their own voice. “But don’t you ever shut up/please, kid have your say/’cos I still love you/even if I never see you again.” Case hurls her powerful voice against the bottomless pit of time and space to reach her listeners. Whether or not she is the most humane songwriter living is not really for me to say. However, she is undoubtedly one of the great talents of our generation, a veteran who continues to inspire and amaze.

Palma Violets | “Best Of Friends”

BEST_OF_FRIENDSPalma Violets sound like a prep-school version of The Walkmen or maybe a Libertines cover band: snotty and romantic yet incapable of getting into real trouble. In a year of popular experimentation, Palma Violets debut 180 feels like going back to work after spending the weekend at Burning Man. To call it “safe” might sound condescending but next to albums by The Knife, Kanye West, Danny Brown, Tyler the Creator, Boards of Canada and Beyonce, Palma Violets seem positively quaint: rock crooners in the tradition of The Doors without the masochistic streak. The album’s high water mark, “Best of Friends” proves that there’s nothing wrong with reinventing the wheel. A rousing, dynamic love song about not falling in love, “Best of Friends” is one of the great guitar leather jacket rock songs of the year. If the existence and success of Palma Violets indicates anything it’s that, in these times of aesthetic abundance, clean and simple is sometimes the best way to get noticed.

Parquet Courts | “Careers in Combat”

LIGHT_UP_GOLDIt’s impossible to choose a representative song from Parquet Court’s outstanding Light Up Gold. While “Stoned and Starving” may be getting much deserved attention as the zeitgeist ennui anthem, Light Up Gold is, ahem, alight with brilliance that can be easily missed. Take for instance the 1:07 “Careers in Combat,” a surprisingly affecting reflection on what’s been lost in the digital dead sprint toward perfection. “There are no more summer lifeguard jobs/there are no more art museums to guard,” singer Andrew Savage intones before adding, “there are no spots left for park rangers/cos there are no more bears to save you from.” If all that has you feeling a trifle nostalgic don’t worry because there are still careers in combat, my son. Like LCD Soundsystem before them, Parquet Courts are informed by a number of disparate musical genres. They fill those gaps with intelligent, insightful lyrics that reflect a deep, unwavering sympathy for humanity and all its lost causes. Parquet Courts may become the next “cool” indie band to straddle the underground and mainstream music worlds (whether there’s still a distinction between the two has yet to be decided) but it’s not likely to change anything for them. You simply do not arrive at a record like Light Up Gold by giving even a single fuck about who does or does not like you. Like their music, this attitude doesn’t come from a place of superiority or tired ambivalence but rather utter certainty and conviction: the essence of punk rock. Matching confidence with excellence, Parquet Courts are poised to take over the world or maybe just go grab a snack.

Phoenix | “Trying To Be Cool”

TRYING_TO_BE_COOLPerhaps the most ill fitting name for a track by the suave European pop gurus, “Trying To Be Cool” is the standout track from Phoenix’s follow up to 2009’s excellent Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. So much of the storied difference between these two records is in their cover art. Wolfgang embodied its cover’s bright pop art bombs in radio-ready hits “1901” and “Lisztomania.” Meanwhile, Bankrupt! is frequently as dull as its still life fruit and grey matte. The new album lacks the experimental streak of Wolfgang while missing the pure pleasure of It’s Never Been Like That (2006). Phoenix essentially excels at two different styles: the red lining electro pop of “Entertainment” and the restrained swagger of “Trying To Be Cool,” which matches musical left turns with hip-shaking grooves. Though I’m sure it wasn’t meant as a mission statement, when Thomas Mars kicks off the song by pointing out that “city and desert coexist/depending on the things you’re wearing,” I can’t help but wonder if he knows that his band is at its best when persistence and pleasure co-exist in their music. Bankrupt! is a little overripe as a whole but “Trying To Be Cool” definitely achieves its self-declared goal.

Pusha T | “Numbers On The Boards”

NUMBERS_ON_THE_BOARDSFull disclosure: I’m still not sure what “trap” is. But if it’s anything like Pusha T’s “Numbers On The Boards,” I may have found my new favorite subgenre. My Name is My Name, Push’s second major label release, follows on the heels of Wrath of Caine, a quickie mixtape from earlier in the year. Where that album featured the Rick Ross-assisted “Millions,” an ode to “dope boys and stash spots…that energy,” according to Push, “Numbers On The Boards” successfully demonstrates the difference between mixtapes and records. Not a banger in the conventional sense, “Numbers” finds Push boasting like the best of them (“Givenchy fitting like it’s gym clothes”) over a thick, insistent beat from Don Cannon and Yeezy. Amid a torrent of impressive wordplay, Push references Michael Jordan’s legendary slam dunk contest win in ‘88. But if you think about it, that couldn’t have been the first time Jordan attempted the feat. Like most impressive acts, it had to have been rehearsed obsessively so that, when the time came, there’d be no mistakes or false starts. That is the real difference between Wrath of Caine and My Name is My Name, “Millions” and “Numbers on the Board,” and those that want to be great and those who are.

Rhye | “Open”

OPENRhye’s Woman feels like the bookish cousin of Autre Ne Veut’s lovesick party starter/tanker Anxiety. When details regarding the project were slight there was some confusion as to whether the singer was a man or woman. Even when the identity of the duo was later revealed, the enigma surrounding Rhye persisted. The androgyny and melancholy of singer Milosh’s delivery finds its match in the sensuality of “Open.” Bristling with warmth and sexuality, the song implores its “faded” subject to “stay open.” Orchestrated with restraint and performed with tenderness, “Open” has all the earmarks of a love letter never sent. It’s personal yet ambiguous, bittersweet and resigned to a life spent wondering “what if.”

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Libby’s First Mixtape//a perfectly split wishbone//November 2013

Libby’s First Mixtape is an ongoing series of music mixes I make for my younger sister. Her name is Libby. The genesis of this series dates back to roughly 2005. Since then I’ve been putting these mixes together on a 4-6 week basis, give or take. Listen along via Spotify through the link at the bottom of the post.

perfectly_split_wishbone

As an act of reconciliation for the timeless symbol of sibling rivalry I present for your consideration: a perfectly split wishbone. Last time, I was in full blown nostalgia mode, sorting through a season’s worth of musical discoveries that dovetailed nicely with my experience of falling in love during the picturesque beauty and intolerable humidity of the western Vermont summer. This time around I’m (relatively) all caught up with the late fall releases many of which straddle the boundaries of pop and experiment.  Continue reading

Libby’s First Mixtape//play::pause::stop

Libby’s First Mixtape is an ongoing series of music mixes I make for my younger sister, Libby. The genesis of the series dates back to roughly 2005. Since then I’ve been putting these mixes together on a 4-6 week basis, give or take. In effort to circumvent the tyranny of media conglomerates, I will be putting links to these mixes online via Spotify. 

“play::pause::stop” was a labor of love. There were at least three alternative versions of this mix that didn’t make the cut. Mixes are a wildly unpredictable art form for me. At their most basic, they require an attention to thematic and musical sequencing. At any given time I’m drawing on a selection of songs either just long enough to fill the LP length runtime that I’ve pretty much ingrained as “correct” in myself (my mixes rarely top over 45 minutes) while at other times my cup runneth over with a wide range of musical choices. Either way, I try to curate my selections for overall listening pleasure and surprise. This installment is mostly culled from 2013 releases. Some are singles from forthcoming albums (Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” Majical Cloudz “Childhood’s End”) while others are exciting cuts from bands whose full length debuts I’m terribly excited about (in particular “Husbands” from UK post-punk and all female quartet Savages) and still others are just infectious little gems from some of my favorite artists (“Millions ft. Rick Ross” by Pusha-T and “Electric” by The Men).

Continue reading