[I had meant to publish this about a month ago, but writing up blurbs about 50 albums proved to take much more time than I had available. So instead of being posted “on time”, it’s “late” … but all that means is that I get the last word on 2013. Woo!]
2013 was a great year for music. Now for someone writing about music, maybe that’s about as cliche as the President annually declaring that “the state of our union is strong”, but I’m not quite that predictable. Notably, I thought that 2012 was pretty disappointing, with its parade of one underwhelming or mediocre release after the next.
After so many albums fell flat in 2012, I was definitely ready to move along to new releases in 2013. Early in the year, I found so many albums to look forward to that I needed to start maintaining a list just to keep up. Good records aren’t just made of anticipation though and albums can fall flat anytime. But one by one, 2013′s releases delivered the goods. A wide net cast in fear of a high failure rate turned into a veritable cornucopia of outstanding 2013 releases. In fact, there were so many great records released in 2013 that I couldn’t contain my year-end list to my top 30 albums. This year, the list ballooned to 50, with a heaping helping of honorable mentions to boot.
The only catch was that Amazon’s mp3 store pricing changed this year. Two or three years ago, Amazon’s aggressive pricing in its mp3 store converted me from only buying physical media to being (mostly) a purchaser of digital downloads. But if it was the price point that pushed me into digital downloads, it was also the pricing that pushed me away. When Amazon’s “sale” prices on mp3 albums rose to $7.99 this year, I stopped buying and waited for old sale prices to return… and they never did.
One consequence of this was that my listening environment for the year lacked diversity. I couldn’t soundtrack my work day with new music on my iPod, I couldn’t burn discs of new albums to play in my car. It meant lots of listening at home, (usually) after work, at night on Spotify (I do find it ironic that Amazon would push me to be more reliant on renting music than buying it, but that’s another discussion for another day).
Since there was so much good stuff to hear and I had less time in which to listen, it meant that I spent a lot less time with my favorite albums in 2013 than I had in years past. That, in turn, made compiling this list even harder than it ordinarily has been.
Unlike the last two years when there were two or three albums jockeying for the top spot, I wasn’t able to spend enough time with this year’s releases for any of them to create much separation from the pack… at least not for more than about a month at a time. I think that if I had spent more time with these albums, it might have created more separation and more clearly-defined favorites, but that’s not what we have today. Instead, what we have are a bumper crop of very good albums and some difficult choices atop the list.
But before we get to that, here’s the honorable mentions that – on a different day – might have appeared at the bottom of the list. These tend to fall into three groups. First, there are the albums that had features that I really liked and other bits that I didn’t. Maybe I didn’t quite connect with them on the first go-round, but I can imagine revisiting them in a few months to find that I regret not putting them in my top ten. Albums like The Haxan Cloak’s Excavation, Deafheaven’s Sunbather, Julia Holter’s Loud City Song, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Push the Sky Away, Boards of Canada’s Tomorrow’s Harvest, Oneohtrix Point Never’s R Plus Seven and Mountains’ Centralia all fall into this bucket.
Then there’s some more accessible albums that were good and enjoyable; albums that I might put in the top 50 next month, but probably not in the top half of the list. Those would include Portugal. The Man’s Evil Friends, Franz Ferdinand’s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, Phoenix’s Entertainment, Classixx’s Hanging Gardens, Mikal Cronin’s MCII, Karl Bartos’ Off the Record, the Appleseed Cast’s Illumination Ritual and Melt Yourself Down’s self-titled release.
Anyway, enough reading. You’ve been waiting long enough. Time for the list! Album titles link to the album on Spotify and highlighted tracks link to the songs on Soundcloud [s] or YouTube [y].