In fact, I ended up letting my friend borrow my van that day, but my point is this: When my friend asked me how I find the music that I find, I answered, “I just listen.”
This was the truth. I just listen. I listen all of the time.
In the old days, I had complicated theories about what kind of music I liked and about what kind of music was worth listening to. I do not have these theories anymore.
Now I just listen.
I will listen to an album and if I keep listening to it, over and over and over again, then I generally assume this means that I like that album.
There are lots of good and even great albums that I never ever feel like listening to at all – albums like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Frank Ocean’s Channel ORANGE and any album by Phillip Glass. Those albums will not be among my top ten albums of the year.
In 2013, these are the albums I listened to. Some of them are albums that you might enjoy listening to, too.
10. Aki Onda – Cassette Memories Vol. 3: South of the Border
Aki Onda is a Japanese guy who does field recordings. He records random sounds on an old school cassette recorder and then mixes the sounds together later on. Like on this album, he recorded birds and pipes and a storm and a street band in Mexico, and then he mixed them together in a way that makes strange images form in my head. Making strange images form in my head is a surefire way to end up in my top ten albums of the year.
9. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away
Push the Sky Away is a grow-er, not a show-er. It took me eight months to decide I liked it. I spent most of that time trying to locate the melodies and getting past the clunker opening lyrics to “Mermaids.” Warren Ellis’ loops and atmospheres are fantastic this time out, though, and it’s the most consistent and immersive album the Bad Seeds have done in decades.
8. Roly Porter – Life Cycle of a Massive Star
Talk about truth in advertising. Roly Porter’s cinematic new album is his sonic take on a star being born, burning, and dying, only it takes thirty-five minutes instead of a few billion years. At times, it sounds like Eighties-era Eno ambience or a Peter Gabriel soundtrack, but still, it reaches out and sinks its solar flares into my brain every time I put it on.
7. Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Gonna Eat That?
Are You Gonna Eat That? is a fun hip hop album. Fun hip hop albums do not make it into my top ten albums of the year. In fact, I sort of pride myself on that. But from the moment I heard Aesop Rock brag about being “voted most likely to be snowed in at a desolate hotel writing a novel,” I realized my usual rule might have to be waived. Nine months later, it’s been waived.
6. Stranger by Starlight – Chalk White Nights
This album is full of smoky little stories that are whispered, growled, and moaned by Oxbow’s Eugene Robinson over music played by Stray Ghost’s Anthony Staggers. I do not know anything about Oxbow and I do not know anything about Stray Ghost. I do not want to. These are late night mood pieces best experienced without the benefit of any context.
5. Amen Dunes – Through Donkey Jaw
If Marc Bolan had survived, forgotten the English language, and then recorded an album with Brian Eno in 1980, it would have sounded like this. That’s probably not much help to you, but it is accurate.
4. The Uncluded – Hokey Fright
This collaboration between Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson is my guilty pleasure of the year. It has some dark and profound beauties like “TV on 10” and “Bats.” It also has some embarrassing clunkers like “Organs” and “Tits Up,” songs I would never want anyone to know I listen to voluntarily and repeatedly. The problem is that Aesop Rock is just about my favorite right now, so even when he goes into cute mode, he can do no wrong.
3. Giles Corey – Deconstructionist
Oh, Dan Barrett, my dear, you had me at “hour-and-a-half long, lyric-less e.p. designed to summon spirits and hallucinations.” I cannot even believe this recording exists. It is exactly the sort of magic thing I dreamed of someday finding when I stopped listening to top 40 radio. In fact, how is this only number three for the year?
2. Kissed Her Little Sister – Sailor
In the year 2028, your kids are going to ask you if you listened to Kissed Her Little Sister’s Sailor back in 2013. In the year 2035, music critics are going to lie and pretend they hailed this one back when it came out. Sailor is wonderful and brilliant, it is more than the sum of its parts, and it is the best damn lo-fi album so far this decade.
1. The Drones – I See Seaweed
2011 was the first year in which my favorite album was metal. 2012 was the first year in which my favorite album was hip hop. 2013 is the first year in which my favorite album is… just pop-rock, with no overarching concept or pretentious ambitions. I guess I See Seaweed is what would happen if Roger Waters wrote Jeff Buckley songs for a non-shlocky version of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Or maybe it is a late-Seventies Graham Parker fronting a mid-Nineties Swans. Either way, it is acerbic, dramatic, and completely addictive. It is my favorite album of 2013, and it is also the best. Objectively the best, I mean. Period.
What did you listen to this year?