Matt Domino lists the ten (and maybe more) best albums he listened to in 2013
Alright, my Puddlers.
List season is drawing to a merciful close, which means that you've HAD IT UP TO HERE with everyone's insights into what albums, books and movies that came out in the past year were the BEST or the WORST. I'm sure you've even gotten a light case of epilepsy from looking at Buzzfeed posts that are crammed with way too many animated GIFS.
Since list season is over, I 'm fitting my insight in right when you least expect it. By now, you know how this works. My Top Ten Albums list doesn't necessarily consist of albums that came out in the last calendar year (though, I do try to include as many current releases as I think is fair), but actually is comprised of the ten albums that I listened to the most this year. I figure that is a better way to frame where my head was at (and thus the entire world and culture because I am vain and have my finger right on the zeitgeist) than to simply list ten albums that came out in one year.
Reunions suck because all of your friends didn't just graduate in one class. History works in overlapping waves and that's how I work too.
Oh, and also, since I've skimped on music content up on the blog this year, I figured I'd include a bevvy of honorable mentions for you to scroll through as well.
James Booker - Junco Partner (1976)
is one of those records that you stumble across when you're bored and
you think about how much you like the sound of honky tonk/boogie
piano/music from the show Treme and then do a deep Google search
on New Orleans piano players. I don't know much about the canon of
blues-based/boogie piano records or the full scope and tradition of New
Orleans music, but I'm pretty confident in saying that this is the definitive blues-based/boogie piano album.
Tracks: "Goodnight Irene", "On the Sunny Side of the Street", "Put Out the Light."
Prince - Sign O' The Times (1987)
always liked this album, but it was only this year that I finally gave
it the due time that it requires. At work, in the month of November, I
think I listened to the entire double album about eight to ten times,
and had most of its tracks in my rotation. I mean, "The Cross" basically
invented the sound and production of 90's alternative rock and "Starfish and Coffee" should have been on The White Album.
Tracks: "Starfish and Coffee", "You Got the Look", "The Cross."
Kanye West - Yeezus (2013)
many think pieces have been written about this album already, so I'll
spare you my take. (I basically agree with Steve Hyden's review.) I
listened to Yeezus and I liked it. Even if you hate Kanye, you
need someone like him around to make "pop" music like this. I'm not sure
if I liked a single track this year more than I liked "Bound 2."
Tracks: "New Slaves", "Blood on the Leaves", "Bound 2."
Fleetwood Mac - Bare Trees (1972)
is a pre-Buckingham/Nicks album, but I swear it's just as good as the
"real" Fleetwood Mac. This is where Christine starts coming into her
Tracks: "Sunny Side of Heaven", "Bare Trees", "Spare Me a Little of Your Love."
Steely Dan - Countdown to Ecstasy (1973)
dabbled in this record a few years ago, but really dove into it towards
the tail end of this year. If you don't like Steely Dan, this is
probably the album that will change your mind. There's not a single bad
or skippable song and the Dan still leave some jagged edges mixed in
with their excellent composition and musicianship.
Tracks: "Boston Rag",
"My Old School", "Pearl of the Quarter"
David Bowie - Low (1977)
Oh, Heroes and Low came
out in the same calendar year? Yeah, that's as insane as you think it
Tracks: "Sound and Vision", "Always Crashing in the Same Car",
"Speed of Life"
David Bowie - Heroes (1977)
As you'll see, I was really into the Berlin Trilogy this year.
Tracks: "Joe the Lion", "Heroes", "V-2 Schneider"
10cc - The Original Soundtrack (1975)
this album full of the "whitest" music ever made? Maybe. Is it an album
that represents everything that was awful about production values in
rock in the 70's? Possibly. Will the first track drive you crazy/make
you want to brush your teeth due to it's pop sensibilities. Absolutely.
Tracks: "The Second Sitting For the Last Supper", "Flying Junk", "I'm
Not in Love."
Paul McCartney - McCartney II (1980)
The sequel to 1970's McCartney. This
album is less Beatles-cleanse and more, "Hey, so this guy Prince is
making some interesting music." A perfect blend of slap-dash McCartney
mixed with thought out crafted tunes.
Tracks: "Coming Up", "Waterfalls",
Al Kooper - Easy Does It (1970)
If you haven't listened to an Al Kooper record, you should probably start with I Stand Alone, but this year, I was really into his third solo album Easy Does It.
It's yet another album where Kooper tries to do it all and basically
Tracks: "A Rose and a Baby Ruth", "Country Road", "God Shed
His Grace on Thee", and "I Got a Woman."
10. Paul McCartney & Wings - London Town (1978)
some reason, this fall I decided to more fully explore the entire Wings
catalog. Now, you may ask, "Why the hell would you do that, Domino?
It's well known that most of the Wings catalog is awful." And you would
be correct. However, something in me just had to know how bad it really
was. Do I love Paul McCartney? Sure. Do I enjoy cheesy pop songs? Of
course, just like anyone else. Do I partially hate myself? Absolutely.
In any event, I sat through some brutal music. For instance, I can safely say that no one ever needs to listen to Wings at the Speed of Sound, Venus and Mars, or Back to the Egg. Seriously, there's really nothing to gain. However, in my Wings research, I found out that 1978's London Town, is actually a gem of an album.
There are mixed opinions of London Town,
but I think it's fantastic. Paul is still effortlessly tossing off
tunes, but many of them are more substantive than other Wings songs like
"Silly Love Songs," "She's My Baby," or "Magneto and Titanium Man." The
title track is one of the most underrated Paul songs of all time, with a
moving and cinematic melody and organ sound propelling the song. "I'm Carrying" is Paul at his sentimental best, "Girlfriend" is a song that
Michael Jackson should have covered on Off the Wall, and "With a Little Luck" is cheesy as all hell, but in the kind of way that makes
you appreciate the purity of it's pop. Plus, Paul even throws in
"Backwards Traveler," which is the kind of weird, catchy,
off-the-top-of-his-head tune that makes albums like Ram and McCartney so enjoyable.
9. Cass McCombs - Big Wheel and Others (2013)
wouldn't call Cass McCombs a consistent songwriter. I've enjoyed much
of his work, but I've never been able to sit through an entire album and
enjoy it from start to finish. I think we can all concede that "County
Line" was one of the best written songs in the past decade, but, for me,
the points where Cass even approaches that kind of high are less
frequent than I'd like.
So, it actually kind of makes sense that a double album like Big Wheel and Others
would actually suit him better than a single album. There are 19 songs
on the album, which allows you to run the full gamut of the tones that
McCombs is capable of rendering so well. There's the traditionalist,
country pleading of "Brighter!" and "Angel Blood"; the contemplative,
pastoral acceptance of "There Can Be Only One"; raggedy, dangerous Neil
Young meandering in "Big Wheel," "Joe Murder," and "Aeon of Aquarius
Blues"; and pure, warm rock in "Sooner Cheat Death Than Fool Love."
Also, there is the stunning cover of Thin Lizzy's "Honesty Is No Excuse," which was one of my ten favorite songs of the year.
8. Elton John - Tumbleweed Connection (1971)
summer, like I would later do with Wings in the fall, I decided to
delve further into Elton John's entire catalog. Again, this led me to,
as Nick Caraway would say, the presence of quite a few veteran bores.
However, I also discovered gems like "Town of Babel" on Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.
And, of course, it led me to the full on excellence of Tumbleweed Connection.
If you do not like Elton John, this is the album that might find it's
way into your…well we do we use to hold and collect albums now? We don't
really have record collections or CD books anymore, right? So, maybe
this will be the one to make its way into your iTunes library or your
Spotify favorites. Yeah, those sound really sexy and human.
this is a great album. It's advertised as Elton doing country rock,
when really it's just Elton doing his best impersonation of the Band.
"My Father's Gun" is like the younger, more blatantly theatrical cousin
of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Town," complete with thundering
drums, triumphant brass and plenty of references to "the calvary."
There's an early take on the searing bitch-rock that Elton would later
trademark in "Son of Your Father," and the swaggering, boozy, honky tonk
bar-pop of "Amoreena," which is the kind of song that helps start
conversations at parties. But the album's true power comes in the back
to back towers of longing of "Burn Down the Mission" and "Into the Old Man's Shoes." The former is anthemic, and sounds like Elton paying
homage both to Ennio Morricone and Broadway, while the latter was
probably the most moving song I listened to this entire year; a Van
Morrison-inspired melody and production that will make you miss
something you don't even understand.
Plus, the drums just sound so fucking good on every track.
7. Thin Lizzy - Fighting (1975)
Where my Thinners at!?
studied abroad in Dublin with a guy named Tom. His mother was the mayor
of Middletown, Connecticut and he loved James Joyce and At Swim Two Birds.
We used to drink Paddy whiskey, drink bad Czech beers and he'd play me
lots of Thin Lizzy. At the time, I thought it was alright, but I didn't
really give the band much more consideration than some nice rocking
guitar music that I drank to.
But this year, I finally
"got" Thin Lizzy. Sure, it's not A-List Classic Rock, but it's damn
close. And, besides, Phil Lynott's lyrics are way more ballsy and less
pretentious than anything Robert Plant wrote in Led Zeppelin.
Out of all of their albums, I love Fighting
the most. I mean, just look at that title! "Rosalie" belongs in the
discussion for best album opening tracks, it's main riff like the
opening salvo for the best night of your life. "The King's Vengeance"
hits all the pastoral notes that peak-era Zeppelin (1970-75) did,
without sacrificing any testosterone. My favorite song, "Fighting My Way Back," is redemption personified. It should be the theme song for
underdogs anywhere. Plus, it features two of my all-time favorite
lyrics, "I'm tough, rough, ready and able/To pick myself up from under
Who wants a beer?
6. David Bowie - Station to Station (1976)
told you I was deep into Bowie's Berlin era this year. Pound for pound,
I think this is the best album that Bowie ever made. It's only six
tracks and runs 51 minutes and 19 seconds, but you're attention never
wanes for a moment.
On the surface, it's perhaps not as experimental as anything on Low, Heroes, Lodger or Scary Monsters,
but it still contains an overwhelming overall feel of innovation. Each
of Bowie's personas is firmly entrenched in each of these songs. The
Thin White Duke surveys his kingdom in the foreboding, train smoke beginning of the title track and then introduces cocaine to Ziggy
Stardust and Captain Tom in the rollicking, "check your pulse to see if
your alive if you don't like this groove" second half. "Golden Years" is
as club worthy as "Let's Dance" and puts a nice cap to the "Young
American" era. "Word on a Wing" and "Wild is the Wind" are both
callbacks to Bowie's traditionalist, singer-songwriter beginnings, while
"TVC 15" and "Stay" are both as fuzzy, weird and mechanical as the
stuff that would immediately follow Station to Station.
It's a masterpiece. In fact, I think I'm going to listen to the title track on repeat until I become completely paranoid.
5. Chris Cohen - Overgrown Path (2012)
Chris Cohen's Overgrown Trail
came out in September of 2012. In January of this year, my friend Alex
introduced me to the album, but it took me until the spring to finally
explore it on my own.
This is one of the best albums of
the past five years that no one knows or even talks about. It is a
record that is perfect for either spring or fall—it fits in with
seasonable, transitioning weather. Everything about Overgrown Trail
is comfortable and familiar, but in the best way. There's no laziness,
just simply attention and understanding of craft. It is a well-sequenced
album in the truest sense.
The opening track, "Monad," begins with feedback, a droning piano and Magical Mystery Tour
bass-playing. That initial haze soon gives way to an irresistible and
smooth groove and the rest of the album follows suit. The bass playing
and production is incredible throughout. "Rollercoaster Rider" is the
kind of song that Paul McCartney would have sincerely written in
1967-1968 or that Nilsson would have written and then made sincerely
weird in 1972. "Don't Look Today" is the perfect song for one of those
startlingly beautiful April days that sneak up on you out of nowhere.
The songs all call to mind the creative and workmanlike pop of John Cale
and Robert Wyatt.
Overgrown Path is an album you can put on for anyone. It is a pleasant Sunday on record. And you don't mind going to work the next day.
4. Kurt Vile - Walking on a Pretty Daze (2013)
My double feature for much of April and May was listening to Overgrown Path followed by Kurt Vile's Walking on a Pretty Daze. I'd chase Chris Cohen's considered pop, with the smeared and sustained stoner rock of Kurt Vile.
people have told me that the album is a little overlong and that some
of the tracks are hard to get into. I can't fault those opinions. Walking on a Pretty Daze is 11 tracks long and runs 1 hour and 9 minutes. That's close to the length of an average double album.
being said, the people who don't like this album are wrong. Vile's
playing and singing on this record are both hypnotic and slightly
soothing. But you don't ever stop paying attention. There's something in
his Iggy Pop growl that makes you feel danger at the edges of even a
pleasant song like opener "Walkin on a Pretty Day." Tracks like "Girl Called Alex" and "Was All Talk" are haunted by ghosts. They aren't
terrifying, but there' something unsettling to whatever it is that Vile
has seen and come to accept.
All that being said, it's not
a sad or even dark album. There's light and shade in equal doses.
Everything about the record just feels real. As Vile says, in "Shame Chamber," a loping, shimmering Neil Young inspired song, "It's just
another day in the shame chamber/Living life to the lowest power/Feeling
bad in the best way a man can." And this is later followed by an
Makes sense to me.
3. Nick Lowe - Jesus of Cool (1977)
always loved Nick Lowe. I'll never forget the time, while visiting a
girl I loved in Madrid in 2007, when I walked into the bar La Via
Lactea—in the Tribunal neighborhood of the city—and heard "I Love the
Sound of Breaking Glass" come over the speakers the moment I stepped in
the door. It made me feel cool…until I shouted, "Holy shit, Nick Lowe!"
to a bunch of uncaring Spaniards and the girl who I was with.
Before Yeezus came out this year, Jesus of Cool might
have been the most blasphemous and confident album title in popular
music history. I'm probably wrong about that, but I believe that fact is
true and I don't want to do the research to prove otherwise.
record consists of Nick Lowe writing top-notch pop and rock songs in a
variety of styles and basically just showing the world that he knows
what good music is and how you should go about making it. "I Love the
Sound of Breaking Glass," is Bowie; "Marie Provost" is Elvis Costello;
"36 Inces High" is the Clash; "Nutted by Reality" out-McCarneys
McCartney; and "They Called it Rock" and "Heart of the City" rock so
furiously and so fast that no one in the punk community could even try
to pierce Lowe's armor.
That's all set up for the glorious
closer "Rollers Show" which is ostensibly a spoof of the band the Bay City Rollers, but so much more. It's a rallying cry straight from heaven
about the joys of music and getting a ticket to that one important rock
show. "Rollers Show" was the song that underscored my entire year,
complete with air guitar strums to the to the epic, holy cacophony that
brings the song to an end.
2. The Strokes - Comedown Machine (2013)
all know by now that I love the Strokes and that when it comes to their
music that I'll never say die. In fact, I wrote all about it in April on The Nervous Breakdown.
I'm almost thirty. The guys from
the Strokes are almost 40. The Walkmen have unofficially retired. I'm
not deluding myself anymore. I don't expect the Strokes to ever truly
matter again, but I'll still listen to, love and argue for everything
they put out.
I still think "One Way Trigger," "Welcome to Japan," "Partners in Crime" and "Happy Ending" are stone cold classics
and are being severely underrated. People will look back on this album
and realize that it was better than they originally thought.
me, I'll keep supporting the Strokes. I'm getting older, so I've
learned to pick my battles. But sometimes I still like fighting even if
I'm going to lose.
*BONUS LOOPHOLE HONORABLE MENTION*
Bob Dylan - Another Self Portrait (2013)
so this was probably my favorite record of the entire year, but it's
technically a compilation of bootlegs, so I didn't know where or how to
place it. It's no secret that I love Bob Dylan's Self Portrait album, as well as the follow-up album New Morning.
This two disc, thirty-five track release collects outtakes, alternate
versions and tracks that were left off those two albums (as well as a
slightly different version of "I Threw It All Away" from Nashville Skyline.).
Rightly or wrongly, I've long believed that Self Portrait is
the skeleton key to unlocking the change in Dylan from the 1960's to
the 1970's; and to perhaps most fully understanding is protean
personality. When I listen to these outtakes, I don't care about any
musical or historical theorizing. All I care about is the fact that
these songs are excellently recorded, Dylan's voice is about as
traditionally pure as it would ever be and that each time I listen to Another Self Portrait, it feels like drinking a large vase of cold water after being out in the sun playing basketball for four hours.
traditional songs rub alongside the Dylan originals and blend together
so well that you forget who wrote which. So much so that up until this
past weekend, I thought that "Minstrel Boy" was a traditional tune when
it was penned by Dylan back in the 60's.
picture myself listening to this record, my legs kicked up on a train
seat or up on backyard wicker furniture, for years to come. I'll lie
there, reaching sideways every now and then for a glass of water or a
bottle of beer. My heart and stomach will float inside me, feeling weak
and melancholy at one moment, and strong and willed by excitement the
next; all while I think about the passing and general confusion of time.
Tracks: "Thirty Boots", "This Evening So Soon", "Time Passes Slowly
#1", "Went to See the Gypsy [Alternate Version]"
1. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City (2013)
the 200 section of the Barclays center, a skinny teenager in an orange
shirt, the long sleeves stretching loosely over his hands, swung a
rolled up poster above his head. In the darkness of the arena, the thin,
white cylinder flashed in the air along with sudden swaths of blue,
purple, and sometimes red light from the stage. The teenager wore thick
framed black glasses and slapped five with his friends. Something about
the scene made me smile. They couldn't have been more than 15 years old.
turned my head and looked over the sizable crowd on the floor. Through
the darkness and the flashing stage lights, I could see people mashed
together in fashionable black and grey jackets, some women wore varying
shades of tan leather. Among these earth tones were white sweatshirts
and sweaters, tipped up caps and slightly ruffled collars. The world was
obscured by darkness and faint marijuana smoke and everyone looked
extremely healthy while they sand lyrics to songs out loud.
Onstage, Vampire Weekend were playing."
was going to be the beginning of a think piece I was hoping to write
and submit somewhere after I saw Vampire Weekend at the Barclay's center
in September. Then I realized, that there would already be plenty of
think pieces about them and that I should probably just write fiction
This was the best album I listened to this year. "Hannah Hunt" may have been the best song I listened to all year.
guys from the Strokes are seven years older than me. The guys from
Vampire Weekend are the same age as I am. While the Strokes were unable
to truly improve with age, Vampire Weekend are exactly the opposite.
fact that the Vampire Weekend albums continue to improve is an
encouraging sign for someone like me who is just trying to get better
with each passing year as well. I want to leave the past behind and get
better and not worry about death without ignoring it. Maybe that's what
the album was about anyway.