Top Ten of 2013: Editors.

2. Editors – The Weight of Your Love

I’ve been into Editors for roughly eight years, which surprises me as I just now did the math. Back in those experimental days of college, I’d snatched my heart back from Interpol and given it over to Bloc Party, and I was expanding my post-punk revival horizons. “Munich” and “Blood” were my jams. The Back Room was perfect, and then An End Has a Start stood on the shoulders of that record to become even better. And then In This Light and on This Evening came along, and I didn’t care for it as much. I wavered.

And now here they are with The Weight of Your Love, shrugging off the synths and sounding like themselves again. This isn’t about going back to their roots or rejecting their previous album so much as expanding to make some really fucking good rock tunes. “A Ton of Love” has such strong R.E.M. vibes that I was surprised from the first note. Tom Smith has an incredible, deep voice, but to hear him go falsetto on songs like “What Is This Thing Called Love” is a delight, especially when he shifts his pitch back down, going from vulnerable to strong as ever. Goosebumps. I find everything about this album compelling, from the music to the lyrics to the gorgeous artwork that pairs with the record and each single.

Sometimes you just need a band to sound like a group of guys playing instruments to remember the magic of how simple the essence of music is. To me, Editors are transcendent.

Top Ten of 2013: Foy Vance.

3. Foy Vance – Joy of Nothing

I’ve been a big fan of Foy Vance for years. I dragged friends to New York’s annual Craic Fest to see him, and when they were a little frightened by the first act, LaFaro (who rocked my face off, personally), I insisted they stay. Foy didn’t make it on the stage until about midnight, but wow. Worth the wait and then some. At this point, it had been years since his debut album had been released. It would be years until Joy of Nothing. He had nothing new to promote, no connections to shake down, and still he packed that room and sent people singing out into the streets in the middle of the night.

Joy of Nothing has a bit less of the overt soul and blues that Hope contained, but the tragedy and triumph have made their way into the lyrics instead. It’s almost strange to listen to this album because I’ve now seen the guy live a few times and have gotten used to the fantastic singalongs that mark his shows. (“Church without the boring shit,” as he once remarked.) “Guiding Light” in particular is a staple of his performances, lasting for minutes after he has left the stage and bid the audience goodnight. How could that possibly translate? Well, Ed Sheeran’s presence on the song gives it an air of audience participation, but his voice is also notably delicate. It’s clear he treats these words with respect. As should we all.

If you need further convincing, then here you go: Foy had the balls to ask Bonnie Raitt to be on his album. Singing backing vocals. Nicely done, sir.

Top Ten of 2013: Manic Street Preachers.

4. Manic Street Preachers – Rewind the Film

As a lady with a particularly liberal mindset, I went through a phase of really loving the hell out of Manic Street Preachers. These Welsh rockers were just the right amount of shouty, loud, glamorous rock with abrasive lyrics. Then I got a little mellower, Nicky Wire was a bit too much, and I just stopped paying attention.

Enter Rewind the Film. My God, what a beautiful album! The guest appearances of Lucy Rose, Cate Le Bon, and Richard Hawley accomplish that rare feat of enhancing a record rather than stealing the spotlight. Here these fearless rockers have allowed themselves moments of quiet, nostalgia, and even fear as they assess themselves in their middle age. There’s little aggression to hide behind, and that proves that the Manics have managed to build a legacy that will go beyond their politics. I signed up to review this album, and I am so glad I did. Each listen gives me a new insight and appreciation for my position in life.

This is an album for age. Allow yourself to feel older and wiser. Or less wise. To miss, to love, to lose. To know that there is much more ahead.

Top Ten of 2013: Lissie.

5. Lissie – Back to Forever

I don’t have anything against most pop music, but when it comes to my favorites, I like a bit more honesty. Building on folk and rock roots, Lissie isn’t afraid to take a bit of that pop in through her beats or keyboard embellishments while still staying true to her tequila-drinking, plaid-wearing, guitar-rocking self. Thank all of the gods you can name that there’s someone like her out there just being herself, as the song “Shameless” above so gracefully demonstrates.

Catching a Tiger, her debut album, came out when I was working for Nielsen writing trivia questions about British television ads. (Yes, I got paid for that.) At the time, Lissie was pretty big over there but not so popular here in her native land. Still, those thirty second clips were enough to inspire me to get into her music, and I’m glad I did. Back to Forever feels more cohesive and more about adult life than the nostalgia of her previous album. There are some real rock anthems (“I Don’t Wanna Go to Work” and “Cold Fish,” particularly), but there are also moments of extreme vulnerability. She’s a complex woman, and I think this album is a great demonstration of what that means in the modern age.

Also, on a purely personal level, I am so grateful for the song “Mountaintop Removal.” As a West Virginian by birth, I often feel that people ignore the problems in the state, particularly at the hands of the almighty mining industry. To hear an artist actually express concern in a song is incredible and moving. Rock on, Lissie.

Top Ten of 2013: David Ford.

6. David Ford – Charge

When I had my ill-fated romp through Virgin Megastore, as I described in my last post, I also  bought a record by David Ford. I discovered his music in 2008 after graduating college and becoming a bit depressed because I’d moved back in with my parents and didn’t feel like things were going as they should. Through one song, I felt better.

Since then he’s been putting out great, horrifically underrated music. I recommend him to my friends. I push people to see him live. Have you seen him live? If not, go! He often utilizes a loop pedal that can increase the drama of his songs. On the album, everything is its absolute best version, but to see a song build before your eyes, possibly going wrong, is a transcendent process.

I guess I should describe the music. It’s whatever the hell it wants to be: acoustic, piano, rock, folk, whatever. Earnest, informative, barbed, and clever. This album is a bit less political than his previous output, but where can you go when you’ve already done a sour love ballad to Margaret Thatcher? One of my few gig regrets about 2013 is that I missed out on seeing David play with a full band when he did two shows in New York City. I saw the first and delighted in every minute (as, oddly, I sat next to his lovely parents), but between that night and the next, I managed to acquire a fever over 100 degrees and spent a couple of days in bed, mourning my bad luck. So give this a listen and have many regrets for not seeing him on tour. Unless you did, in which case, I salute you.

Top Ten of 2013: Frightened Rabbit.

7. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

I fell in love with Frightened Rabbit sometime in 2008, around the release of The Midnight Organ Fight. During my first or second visit to New York City, I was an excitable tourist who went to the Virgin Megastore in Union Square with rabid hunger for new music. I’d just escaped the wilds of Cleveland, so a record store that was more than one floor was kind of a big deal. Anyway, I picked up Sing the Greys, adored it, and felt proud that I had found a band worthy of my praise.

While The Winter of Mixed Drinks was a good record, I didn’t love it as much as the first two. Scottish bands just do miserable songs better than anyone else. If anyone disagrees, it’s because they just don’t know enough Scottish music. Still, without hesitation I preordered the deluxe version of Pedestrian Verse, and man, am I glad I did. The balance of the band members writing together really gives this album a fuller sound. It’s still sleek like The Winter of Mixed Drinks but not afraid to show the cracks, making for a therapeutic listen.

Plus I won a meet and greet with them back in October, and they were the sweetest guys. Well done, FRabbits.

Top Ten of 2013: CHVRCHES.

8. CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe

Do you have this ridiculously catchy song stuck in your head yet? Good.

I like embracing music that’s a little weird. I realize that much of my list this year is pretty straight forward rock/acoustic stuff, but electro influences are absolutely delicious to me. In fact, just missing the cut this year was Foals’ Holy Fire (spoiler alert), so if you like them but haven’t yet checked out CHVRCHES, please do. This is one of the later releases on my list, but I’ve found it addicting. These songs pop into my head in the middle of the day, and I feel no reason to exorcise them. They’ve gained proper buzz, and rightfully so. This is a band I want to see everywhere in 2014.

Lauren Mayberry of this band has endured a lot of misogyny online, and she penned a really great article fighting back against the abuse she receives just for daring to be a woman who makes music. I’d only heard “Recover” when I cam across her writing on The Guardian’s website, and that was when I knew that I had to give this band much more of my attention. I’m grateful for her words and, of course, the tunes.

Top Ten of 2013: Gabrielle Aplin.

9. Gabrielle Aplin – English Rain

My friend Suz introduced me to Gabrielle’s music in the middle of last year, back when she was known as more of a YouTube artist whose talent, dedication, and lovely EPs had secured her a record deal with Parlophone. Sometimes her music can be a bit soft and safe for my tastes, but here are a few reasons why she is totally badass:

a) She has a giant tattoo on her arm with a quote from “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot.

b) She has a label to put out other artists’ music now that she’s signed to a major.

c) She loves animals, particularly her pet ferret.

d) She’s supported Ed Sheeran (something of a taste maker) and John Mayer (kind of a big deal) as well as headlined her own tours.

e) Her lyrics can be a hell of a lot darker than her beautiful voice lets on.

So give her a listen. English Rain will be released properly in America next year, and hopefully that will mean that we get to check her out live as well. I’d love to see the grit that follows after singing and playing for over an hour live. Somehow I think she’ll only triumph and become even more endearing.

Top Ten of 2013: The Strypes.

Hello, all. We’ve nearly reached the end of another year, which means that after scrambling to write a novel in November (I did it! I did!), I must now throw the fiction aside and pretend it doesn’t exist until I can critique it. Fortunately December is all about compiling lists, so I can distract myself accordingly.

2013 was a year that brought a lot of albums, a lot of great albums, but not a ton of them rocked me to my bones. I assume most of my blog readers are people who know me and my tastes pretty well, so you may be surprised that some established favorites did not make it on my list this year. That’s right, guys: work harder.

First, my simple standards. All of the albums I include are LPs, not singles or EPs. They were released in 2013, not pushed out at the end of 2012 and thus left off other people’s lists (as I was very much anti-year end list last year, but oh well, people change/get bored)/feel entitled to opinions). And that’s it. Ready?

10. The Strypes – Snapshot

You know that scene in Back to the Future at the dance when Marty takes the guitar and shreds the hell out of “Johnny B. Goode,” startling the entire audience into a thoroughly rocked stupor? That’s how I feel about The Strypes. They’re old-fashioned, blues infused rock…which is pretty impressive since I have about a decade on the band members. They have addictive guitar solos. They have catchy, fun lyrics. This is true talent surging forward without pretension or hype, and I hope these lads go far. Is this even out in America? I have no clue. Get an import if not, because these guys are destined to blow up.

 

Dear Musicians: Just Stop. Please.

Hello! I’m certain that I have now claimed the attention of all the prominent musicians on the scene, so I’d hate to waste your time fumbling around verbally. I write to you today to address one key issue: some of you have just lost the fucking plot.

Obviously the music industry is a big, muddled mess right now, with the people on the top wanting to keep their profits while technology makes it easier and faster to discover new talent and consume music, whether you pay for it directly or not. I won’t even go into the streaming services and how many of them don’t give artists their fair share. I’m here to talk about the art itself. Kanye West’s latest release, the insanely hyped Yeezus, seemed to build hype by simply refusing to play the game. This supposedly wouldn’t be about dropping singles for the radio, though a video leaked for “Black Skinhead” demonstrates that West does care about gaining and keeping an audience, rather than creating art in a vacuum and then isolating himself from response. I even saw a Buzzfeed article about why Yeezus as an album was unleakable; I believe it hit the Internet the very next day. If Kanye’s not even immune, how the hell do you create buzz?

Well, if you’re Jay-Z, you get some time during a big basketball game to announce your upcoming record, available for free early to one million people if you used a certain phone with a certain app. I’m an Apple user with an iPhone and a Macbook Pro, and I’m not even mad that I couldn’t get my hands on this for free, especially since the app itself has been widely criticized for data mining. Yes, a lot of apps do that anyway, but it’s a fucking album. If I go to buy a physical CD, I’m pretty sure there isn’t a tracking device in the jewel case to study where I’m going and to bug my apartment to listen to all the phone calls I don’t make (except to my mom at least once a week; hi, Mom). A music release is about what a musician does in the studio to capture that moment in his or her career. It is not about collecting your audience’s personal information in order to know your demographic and then react accordingly. Make the music you want to make, not what you think people will want to hear! Incidentally, I don’t like his other publicity stunts, including putting Magna Carta…Holy Grail on display next to an original of the Magna Carta, trivializing the importance of the document while NOT granting Jay-Z an unlikely audience since let’s face it, nobody going to check out the Magna Carta is going to feel compelled to go buy an album because they saw the cover art. It’s just endless article fodder for free because a rich, popular person has the means of being that cocky.

I’m also not thrilled by his six-hour rap performance for his “Picasso Baby” music video. Whether a tongue-in-cheek approach to the art world or a sincere attempt at performance art, such stunts have been done recently, even in New York. In collaboration with Ragnar Kjartansson, an actual artist, The National performed at the Museum of Modern Art for, yes, you guessed it, six hours. Unlike Jay-Z’s exclusive event, again more about press and a video than actually giving to fans, The National’s performance was open to the public, announced in advance, and not a song from their latest album anyway. The National’s performance feels to me like actual performance and art, particularly given the venue and the individuals involved. Jay-Z’s feels like a means to an end, even if he is a talented person.

So I don’t want you to strut your stuff in the art world for six hours. What’s left? Well, Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke have recently taken the creepy sexist approach. Music videos are nothing new, and even Whitesnake were sure to have a scantily clad woman roll around on the hood of a car just to get some attention. But since when do women have to get naked while a man remains fully clothed? There’s enough sexual harassment to go around in many artists’ lyrics these days; you don’t have to generate buzz by making women into objects. And while we’re on the subject: Miley, girl, no. I’m all for you doing your own thing and reinventing yourself, but you’ve taken cultural appropriation a step too far. Own your sexuality, whatever, but when your music video involves a man seemingly to achieve orgasm while eating bread, you cease to be someone that an audience can take seriously.

One final thing you should stop doing: apps. I already aired my grievances about Jay-Z’s app. Bjork’s endeavor I do consider interesting because she’s Bjork, but I never got the app and feel no need to see it. If you launch an app to keep up with news, images, videos, then that’s cool. If you’re doing it to create games, chats, and a Whole New World (©Aladdin, of course) for your fans, then just slow down a bit, buddy. Lady Gaga has gone and finally announced release dates for her new album, new single, and new app. I’m not a fan of Lady Gaga’s anyway, but this is just indulgent tripe. It makes it so the best fans are the ones who have the devices necessary to access the “full package.” If you don’t have an iPhone, or a certain Samsung device, or constant Internet access, then you’re just not good enough to be the target audience. When big artists want to make big waves, they have the money to get up in your faces, and they want a return on that investment.

So, dear musicians, how do you get an audience for your music? Make a good album. That’s it. You consume music with your ears. Most of the rest is optional. Start there, and please don’t treat your fans as customers or broken souls who need you to connect them to mend and become something greater. You’re human, we’re human. Let’s dig some tunes.