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2013 favorite albums

January 11, 2016

Let’s face it – we’ve reached a point of no return.

For years, anyone with a passion for music has moaned about how it’s changed, how it’s not as good as it used to be, how it’s taken a turn in direction to the terrible.

And somehow, every year, I’ve been able to put together a list of at least a dozen recordings it’s been my delight to have in my life.

There’s some kind of disconnect here somehow.

And every year this list comes out – this is the 28th such list produced by me – readers complain (or dismiss their own appreciation of music), saying they’ve never heard of these artists, or these albums, or nothing they like is on it.

There’s some kind of disconnect here somehow.

So please approach this with some advice. These are merely the best new music collections to come across my ears this year. There might be something that prompts you to explore a couple of them. (More, if we’re both fortunate.) If there’s nothing here for you, it doesn’t mean you’re behind the times, or your columnist is being deliberately obscure. (Although either – or both – might potentially be the case.)

It’s just one person’s picks, offered with a sincere hope that the descriptions point you toward something you love or keep you from something you might hate.

1. Julian Cope – Revolutionary Suicide

Almost a folk album from the master of the offbeat. He’s got something to say, so his voice is mixed high, and the songs don’t have a lot of adornment. They’re sometimes nothing more than Cope and a guitar. But they’re still catchy and pointed. There are deep thoughts about a lot of issues, and some of the things he’s talking about may send you chasing down more information.

2. Elvis Costello and The Roots – Wise Up Ghost

A hybrid of the collaborators’ styles, mixing Costello’s style-hopping with The Roots’ R&B and funk and ability to style-hop almost as well as Costello. This is the best album with which Costello has been associated for 25 years. Funky new pieces, and liberal lifts from Costello’s lyrical catalog. Exciting.

3. Robyn Hitchcock – Love From London

Hitchcock produces a wonderful blend of his eccentric lyric and instrument choices with some heartwarming folk and pop. This is a perfect album for a 60-year-old to have made in 2013.

4. Jason Isbell – Southeastern

His last album felt distant, but this twang-tinged singer-songwriter with a bite effort turns it back up a notch. Isbell is generally good for at least one spectacular story song, and this album includes three – “Elephant,” “Songs That She Sang in the Shower” and “Super 8.”

5. Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady

Interested in a 40-year history of R&B? Monae takes you on the journey with a mish-mash of styles, anchored by her energetic voice. Catchy, sure, but the variety is what sells it.

6. The Mavericks – In Time

The interesting thing about the title is how above time The Mavericks are. This album could easily have been recorded 50 years ago, and that’s a compliment. Raul Malo is one of the great male voices in popular music. Check “Come Unto Me” (or “Ven Hacia Me”).

7. Bo Burnham – what.

The next step in comedy. The performance art pieces don’t come off as well without seeing his body and face, but the great and funny songs remain great and funny. The best comedy album of the year. (And it’s even better if you see the video, which he has posted in full and without charge on YouTube.)

8. Frank Zappa – Road Tapes Venue #2

Two discs of music from August 1973 shows in Helsinki, shows fans had not circulated or even actually been able to verify. The peak of Zappa’s jazz-rock era, with a band capable of following him as he solos in wild, lengthy fashion. Fantastic.

9. Doug Stanhope – Beer Hall Putsch

Stanhope gave some thought to social issues, and skewers them through his well-considered concepts. This is Stanhope at his most thought-provoking, the one who offers solutions that make you think, “That could be just crazy enough to work.” That, and make you laugh until you’re teary-eyed and gasping for breath.

10. Jah Wobble and Keith Levene – Yin & Yang

A mix of dub and psychedelia and hauntingly rumbling bass lines, this is never not interesting and hypnotic. Largely instrumental and generally reliant on a looping and jaunty bottom, it’s not for all ears, but it’s a must for dub fans. There’s even a cover of The Beatles’ “Within You Without You” that’s as out of left field now as the original was in its day.

11. Ray Collins Hot-Club – High Life

Newly produced throwback swing jazz from some European young folks. They have the feel, the sense of fun and there’s no tongue-in-cheek or irony. Check out the title track and “Chicken 4 2.”

12. Steve Kilbey – The Idyllist

This sounds in places like something from the Rolling Stones in the late 1960s. Elsewhere, Kilbey’s space-rock feel is well in evidence. Kudos to the guy for operating on the edges of the recording industry and still making a go of it. Quality wins out.

13. Coma – Don’t Set Your Dogs on Me

Melodic heavy metal from Poland. Attractive even for those who don’t normally go for the growly voice-and-complex arrangement stuff.

14. Buck Owens – Honky Tonk Man: Buck Sings Country Classics

Owens is one of the defining voices of country music. These are previously unreleased covers he did for the TV program “Hee Haw,” and more often than not, he makes the songs his own. Priceless.

15. Mike Keneally – You Must Be This Tall

A return to form for the prolific Keneally. He’s at his best when allowing his inventive side to reign, and here, he works through complex instrumentals and his rarely matched ability to compose and charge through intense yet enjoyable melodies.

Also

Are there things missing from that list? Probably. These are 2012 albums that came across my radar in 2013. Had they been heard a year earlier, they might have made last year’s list.

Richard Hawley – Standing at the Sky’s Edge (2012)

Uakti – Beatles (2012)

Kurt Baker – Brand New Beat (2012)

Buckethead – Electric Sea (2012)

Universal Trilogy – Pop Crisis (2012)

The Little Black Dress – Spotlight (2012)

Sitcom Neighbor- Charm (2012)

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