Favorite Edition 2013

2013 was definitely a personal best in spending on music, with 296 purchases as of this writing. Compare that with the 94 purchases from 2012 and 72 from 2011.

But only 59 of those 296 were new releases, a scant 17 percent of the total. In previous years, that percentage would be half.

So where did all that cash go? Vinyl.

The purchase of a new speaker system ushered a vinyl renaissance, and I’ve pretty much embarked on crossgrading the better parts of my digital collection to analog.

I’ve long ago abdicated any responsibility for being a heatseeker, but this year pretty much made it plainly official.

  1. [Jarell Perry: Simple Things]Jarell Perry, Simple Things
    I downloaded Jarell Perry’s debut album, Simple Things, a few days after he opened for Cody ChesnuTT at the Neptune Theatre, and it confirmed the impression Perry left with me that night — he is the American answer to Utada Hikaru. Like Hikki, Perry draws on influences inside and outside the mainstream. There’s a Björk-like ethereal quality to his music, and his understated delivery no doubt draws comparison to Frank Ocean. Simple Things has all the beats and emotive power of R&B with a subversive current of indie rock rippling below. It’s the most impressive album of 2013.
  2. Patty Griffin, Silver BellPatty Griffin has made an industry of quiet introspection, but that doesn’t mean her more ferocious moments are less awesome. Frankly, I’ve wanted more of the Flaming Red Griffin than the Living with Ghosts Griffin. Silver Bell was intended to be the follow-up to Flaming Red, but label politics kept the album in limbo till more than a decade later. Like its intended predecessor, Silver Bell  balances Griffin’s expertise in the slow burner with her under-utilized skills as a blazing inferno. It’s wonderful for this album to have been finally released. It should be no surprise I prefer it over her latest original, American Kid.
  3. [Sam Amidon: Bright Sunny South]Sam Amidon, Bright Sunny SouthTrack down Tim McGraw’s recording of “My Old Friend” and compare it with Sam Amidon’s cover. Amidon’s double-time version does a far better job evoking the song’s sentiment than McGraw’s sleek radio-friendly original. And that’s his genius — bringing out hidden depths of established material. If that means having a dialogue with his banjo on “As I Roved Out” or going nutso in the middle of “He’s Taken My Feet”, so be it.
  4. James Blake, OvergrownI can’t cite a specific example to demonstrate this perception, but Overgrown is both a weirder album than James Blake’s eponymous debut and a more tuneful one. “Retrograde” comes close to epitomizing this notion. Blake sings a gorgeous melody, but a siren blares a pedal tone right in the middle of the song.
  5. Sigur Rós, KveikurSigur Rós has been inching away from its glacial pacing over the last three albums, but Kveikur finally finds the band striking the right balance. Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, the first attempt to break free from so much aching beauty, had a split personality. Kveikur embraces Sigur Rós’ slower pace but lays heavier on the guitars and the backbeat. It’s a truly gritty work.
  6. Hem, Departure and FarewellIn nearly averting its demise, Hem managed to craft an album closest to its brilliant debut, Rabbit Songs. Hem hasn’t messed with its core competencies — rustic American music made lush with a chamber orchestra. But the writing is much stronger this time around.
  7. Johnny Hates Jazz, MagnetizedHow is it possible that Johnny Hates Jazz records its first new album in more than two decades, and it’s far and away better than its most popular work?
  8. Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, Old Yellow MoonI’m not at all familiar with Rodney Crowell’s albums, but I am familiar with his working relationship with Emmylou Harris, who drafted Crowell for her Hot Band in the 1970s. You don’t need to know that history to witness how well the pair work together on Old Yellow Moon.
  9. [TV Mania: Bored with Prozac and the Internet?]TV Mania, Bored with the Internet and Prozac?I always wondered what happened with this Duran Duran side project. While sessions for the Medazzaland album stalled, Nick Rhodes and Warren Cuccurullo fashioned a concept album around reality television a good half decade before the idea of reality television became, well, reality. Bored with the Internet and Prozac?, like Medazzland, is an album outside its time. If it had been released 16 years ago as planned, it would have every bit as singular as it does today.
  10. LEO Imai, Made from NothingLEO Imai’s detour with Mukai Shuutoku on KIMONOS had a tangible affect on him. Made from Nothing is Imai’s hardest and weirdest album, flirting with but never quite crossing into avant-garde terrain. Listeners might actually find this album a tough one to like, but there’s no mistaking the limb on which Imai precariously perches himself.

Honorable mention:

  • Res, Refried Mac
  • Janelle Monáe, The Electric Lady
  • Camper Van Beethoven, La Costa Perdida
  • 10,000 Maniacs, Music from the Motion Picture

Favorite catalog and reissues:

  • The Waitresses, Just Dessert: The Complete Recordings
  • Jayne Cortez and the Firespitters, Maintain Control
  • The Family, The Family
  • ABBA, Arrival
  • Holly Johnson, Blast!