Another new year, another chance to look back on the past year’s music. Looking back, 2013 featured many new releases from established artists which may have pushed some of the new stuff we discovered to the side. I tried to mix it up and, like in past years, limit the list to 25. The list reflects favorite albums so I have selected a song from each album that stood out. (One artist has two selections – my favorite album of the year and the album I listened to the most). This list is also on Spotify, if you prefer not to read on and be distracted by videos. It makes for a great playlist to put on while you ponder your new years resolutions.
1. DAVID BOWIE “The Next Day” (from The Next Day). This album was a surprise, as there was no media hype preceding it’s release. The album played a big part in the development of a new bona-fide Bowie fan around here. Having spent much of the past year rediscovering his entire catalog, I think The Next Day ranks up there on the strength of it’s songs and sound.
3. HAIM “Don’t Save Me” (from Days Are Gone). I read that these three were basically pros from an early age, heavily influenced by their parents, who were also musicians. This album owes a lot to the artists their parents had turned them on to. I do hear Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, some new wave and other stuff in there. It is undeniably great pop music that I have no problem hearing played to death on the radio.
4. UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)” (from II). From New Zealand and Portland, Ruban Nielson‘s band creates quirky pop songs that are lightly coated with sprinkles of psychedelia. I guess.
7. DAFT PUNK “Giorgio By Moroder” (from Random Access Memories). This is such a phenomenal song. Moroder’s voice over and the story behind “the click” is perfectly complimented by the track that builds and builds. Love the drums at the end.
8. JOHNNY MARR “New Town Velocity” (from The Messenger). Mentioned here before, this is a great debut album from a legendary guitarist and songwriter. Repeated listens reveal the layers of care and craft that went into these songs. Great hooks to add to his already impressive collection.
10. SAM PHILLIPS “When I’m alone” (from Push Any Button). Sam Phillips is a treasure. This is her best album in years, possibly since Martinis and Bikinis. Please check out any Sam Phillips if you are not familiar with her.
11. RY COODER AND CORRIDOS FAMOSOS “Vigilante Man” (from Live in San Francisco). This album is a real treat. It features songs from throughout Cooder’s great career. Cooder has served as America’s premier musicologist and this album shows his versatility and varied interests. It features plenty of tasty guitar work as well as awesome guests (FLACO JIMENEZ and LA BANDA JUVENIL). The video is not the best quality but listen as the audience gets into it as Cooder gives them what they came for. (Then check out the great sound of the album recording on my Spotify list, or just go buy the album and support the artist).
13. PATTY GRIFFIN “Wild Old Dog” (from American Kid). I don’t ever want to take a Patty Griffin release for granted. This year the elusive Silver Bell was also released after a decade in limbo and for a while, I was smitten with the band arrangements and more raucous material on that album. But at the core of all of Patty Griffin’s considerable power are the songs and the achingly beautiful voice, both of which are prominently featured on American Kid. “God is a wild old dog”.
14. BRUCE ROBISON AND KELLY WILLIS “Cheater’s Game” (from Cheaters Game). Sure they are both great songwriters and alt-country heros but this does not sound like the cheesy married couple album in any way (George and Tammy, anyone?). There was a lot of good country music this year from newer artists (KACEY MUSGRAVES, ASHLEY MONROE, BRANDY CLARK) but it is reassuring to hear the old dogs still have it. Dogs may not be the right word?
15. STEVE EARLE AND THE DUKES “That All You Got?” (from The Low Highway). Another artist I do not want to take for granted. He has been so good for so long. Back doing his own songs and recorded with the Dukes, this is a very good Steve Earle record.
16. AOIFE O’DONOVAN “Fire Engine” (from Fossils). Another new country-ish discovery. Late this year I became smitten with alt-country again, and I haven’t even mentioned great new albums by NEKO CASE or CAITLIN ROSE yet.
18. BOMBINO “Amidinine” (from Nomad). My fondness for African guitar has been documented here before. Bombino is a recent discovery. This album is produced by BLACK KEYS’ DAN AUERBACH and is full of good gritty desert guitar.
20. LINDA THOMPSON “As Fast As My Feet” (from Won’t Be Long Now). Linda’s latest is like a great big party, attended by all her folk music pals as well as the whole family. It features ex RICHARD, kids TEDDY, KAMI and MUNA THOMPSON, friends MARTIN CARTHY and DAVE SWARBRICK. It even has her kids friends on it (AMY HELM) and a grandkid (ZAC HOBBS). A wonderful collection of songs (her own and from great songwriters like RON SEXSMITH) live up to the hype that a rare Linda Thompson album brings.
24. GOLDFRAPP “Thea” (from Tales Of Us). Lovely, hushed, atmospheric… almost acoustic. Goldfrapp seems to have settled into a nice pattern of alternating an electro-dance pop album with quieter albums that require more focused listening. I like them both.
25. DAVID BOWIE “Where Are We Now?” (from The Next Day). Back where we started. Again, even with all the monumental work he has created in his career, this is a great album. It is what Bowie should sound like now, allowed to create great songs that pull from all aspects of his past work but free from having to bear the weight of shape shifter and trend setter. Just let the guy make great music and stop comparing it to another time. Frankly, this is a great song for any time.