What a depressing year. Not for music, music was fine. Music was normal. It was great! Music is great always. I hope I never become one of those old guys who sits around complaining that music was better when he was a kid. Music has always been equal parts shitty and amazing. And even the amazing stuff is kinda shitty, because it’s all a bunch of 20-year-olds singing songs for 15-year-olds. If you’re 40 like me you have no business listening to music. I should be listening to pigeons quacking at the park as I throw bread at them. Pigeon quacking should be all the music I’m allowed to have an opinion on at my advanced age.
No, this was not a depressing year for music, but for my relationship to it. This was the first year in my life that the constraints of dadhood and career and the burdens of feigning an air of responsibility impeded my ability to consume and care about music. Since the arrival of Elijah, my opportunities for enjoying music have diminished greatly. At home, music just adds to the chaos. In the car, Hazel’s a total radio Nazi so we’ve been listening nonstop to the only thing we can agree on which is the Beatles. The 1 album, specifically, that collects all of their #1 hits and doesn’t have most of my favorite Beatles songs. But it’s fine, I would much rather be listening to any Beatles than that garbage cd of bathtime songs she borrowed from her cousin.
Nonetheless, I continued to cling to my mental picture of my identity and to my appreciation of pre-2000s technology by continuing to accumulate music at an indecent pace. Yes, I know that I could just throw all my records and cds in the trash and get everything through the tubes by joining Spotify, but I also know that you can go fuck yourself. I’m 40 and I like holding things. End of discussion.
So keep in mind as you read this list that most of this stuff I’ve only listened to a handful of times, and when I say handful I’m talking about a tiny mutant hand that only has like 2 fingers. It might sound as if I’ve analyzed every lyric of these things in-depth. I haven’t. Most of this stuff barely registered and my opinions are basically just plagiarized from Pitchfork.
But also I wonder how many music critics actually devote that much time to the things they’re reviewing. You can’t tell me they’re not just on Facebook all day. Humble-bragging like, “Ugh, listening to records for money again :(“ Assholes.
10. Girlpool – Before the World Was Big
You guys, I listened to this record so many times this year. Couldn’t stop listening to it. Hahahah j/k but I did give it a few solid spins and I liked what I heard.
Girlpool is composed of two teenage (now twentysomething) girls from Los Angeles who sing songs about growing up accompanied only by guitar and bass. They sing in unison like schoolyard chanting and their songs are weird and off-tempo and it shouldn’t work but somehow it does. I love them because they are a reminder that music can still be simple and direct and it will always be affecting, no matter how many other musicians are out there using their Gameboys to manipulate electrified garbage cans in quest of something new. Put away your toys and your intellectual pursuits and just scream over your guitars like you stand for something, you wild, reckless youth.
Brendan HATES this shit. Brendan hears one note of Joanna Newsom and he’s like to go full Irish on the stereo. Look, let’s be honest: this is music for elf-people who have gotten lost on the way to a dragon festival where they were hoping to pawn some magic beans. I don’t know how a harpist who sings sixteen minute long songs about taxidermied crows became such an indie-rock darling. Brendan will tell you it’s because she’s associated with Paul Thomas Anderson but Brendan is a buffoon because she had nothing to do with that universe when her breakthrough record, Ys, (pronounced “Ease,” you’ve always wondered, right?) was released and that thing only has 5 songs on it none of which is shorter than 7 minutes so CLEARLY there’s an audience for this kind of majic pixie dream rock with or without the assistance of powerful friends.
I am that audience! I love it! Love it all! Every inscrutable lyric and Minnie Mouse vocal line! I have no idea what any of these songs are about but I am 100% positive there is genius happening here. I mean, “Sapokanikan?” Joanna Newsom is just hanging out rapping about cultural hubris vis a vis some 17th century Indian village in New York? (I looked it up.) And Andy’s like, “yeah, far out, babe. Watch how good I can fart.”
8. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Paper Mache Dream Balloon
Yeaaaaah bwah now we’re talking! What the fuck is this? Like, where did this even come from? What’s that fucking album cover? What’s with that band name? And that title? Is this psychedelic? Bubblegum? Folk rock? Kids’ music? Is it a joke? Is this the worst thing you’ve ever heard or the best?
7. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
I bought this thing on vinyl before I heard a note of it because it was getting so many raves. It was maybe the fourth or fifth album this year to be universally proclaimed the best record of the year well before the candidates had all been assembled. I’m not prepared to say it’s the best album of the year; in fact, I’m actively not saying that right as this very moment. We’re only at number 7. But if you’ve been searching for another Exile in Guyville ever since Exile in Guyville this is about as close as you’re going to get. Not as good as Exile because that thing’s an all-time monster. But rock solid!
6. Chvrches – Every Open Eye
Remember when music from the 80s sounded silly? And then there was a point in the … 2000s? Probably the 2000s. Post-grunge, mos def, because Possum Dixon was doing new wave revival during that period and no one gives a shit about Possum Dixon. Let’s say it was the 2000s, when 80s influences just got folded in to the canon and became another crayon in the toolbox. The toolbox of a professional coloring book artist, I guess.
Chvrches are just the 80s again, but they are pretty great at being the 80s and they have many wonderful songs that I keep reading are really dark but I don’t know, I haven’t really investigated the lyrics too much because I’m content to dig the thick wall of sonic candy atop the words. I mean, “Leave a Trace.” This thing is just . . . CHRIST. If you can listen to this thing and not want to break up with the hot guy in a teen film and dance atop your car in the rain filled with hope and fear of the endless possibilities of life then I just don’t know what.
5. Beach House – Depression Cherry
Beach House is a remarkable band in that they have six albums (two of which came out this year) worth of material that are all the same song. Just one song, done like 60 times. But it’s a great fucking song and this record is that song nine more times, so I cannot complain. The other record they came out with this year was probably just as good but I haven’t gotten it yet because I was kinda like, “I just bought that song again last month.”
4, Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
This is the one. This is the ALBUM OF THE YEAR. I don’t remember the last time I saw greater agreement among the critics. And they’re not wrong! To Pimp a Butterfly is fantastic! I definitely went through a stretch this year where it was the only thing I wanted to listen to. The problem is it wore out after a few weeks because MAN is this thing a heavy lift. There’s no doubt it’s a masterpiece and it will go down as one of the all-time greatest hip-hop albums. It’s just not maybe the thing you should throw in when you’re taking your daughter to preschool unless you’re prepared to have a pretty in-depth conversation about the legacy of slavery with a 5-year old.
3. Grimes – Art Angels
Nothing grabbed me as immediately this year as the Grimes record did. I mean like how great is Grimes? She don’t give a FUCK. The video for “Oblivion” from her last album is the greatest thing ever.
Grimes is a real artist. Like, a fine artist. I hate that phrase. But I mean in the same way that David Lynch is a “director” but really an artist, that’s what Grimes is to music. But her music is also crazy catchy and beautiful and weird and scary and danceable. The new record is just one pop smash after another. Hey Lady Gaga! You been ART SCHOOLED!
2. Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment – Surf
To Pimp a Butterfly was the most IMPORTANT hip-hop album of the year. No question there. But this was my favorite. Donnie Trumpet is the nom de jazz of trumpeter Nico Segal and the Social Experiment is his band, or at least his makeshift band for this album. I just learned this one minute ago on Wikipedia. I bought this record because it was being heralded as the new Chance the Rapper record and Chance the Rapper’s previous album Acid Jazz was my favorite hip-hop album of 2013, the same year that Kendrick Lamar’s previous album, Good Kid M.A.A.D. City was dominating all the critics’ polls. Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper, locked in eternal struggle like two ancient valkyries or some other such mythological thing that struggles eternally.
And when I say bought this album I mean I didn’t buy it, because you COULDN’T buy it, because it was released for free on iTunes. This is the best story you’ve ever heard, I know.
This record is packed so full of wall-to-wall joy and energy that you need to employ some kind of saddening device to wipe the smile off your face after listening to it. And in this world and year full of horribleness and terrible people and global warming and crumbling everything and hate and pain and misery, please, God, give me more moments of entertainment that make me feel good.
I mean, check out this video. If this doesn’t give you the feelies than you need to take a visit to the soul doctor. One of my Facebook friends was outraged that he rhymes “Grandma” with “Grandma” in this song. Which, admitted, that’s maybe not the proudest moment in hip-hop history. But it’s so well-meaning and done with such gusto that it somehow works. Actually, he claimed Chance rhymes Grandma with Shmandma. A cursory dive into the lyrics proves this is sadly not the case, because Grandma and Shmandma is quite possibly the best rhyme I’ve ever heard.
Oh, the 90s. I miss you. Thank god there are bands like Hop Along out there keeping the dream alive. A little bit Sleater-Kinney, a little bit Patti Smith, a lot bit Spinanes, but 100% dated and timeless all at once, like the Waylon Flowers and Madam Christmas Special.
And that voice! Lead singer Frances Quinlan’s voice is a chocolate cake filled with razor-blades that you just want to keep eating because the chocolate is so good you don’t really mind if it kills you. These cats make a mighty noise and if you are my age and me I promise you it will be the best thing you hear all year.
Now go! Listen! Enjoy! Pursue! Use your freedom, you fools, before ISIS comes along and snatches it away! The time is now!
THE MUSIC IS YOU!!!