It’s summer here in 2013 and amongst stacks of new music hitting record stores the Internet every week, today I’ve been listening to the self-titled Ramones debut as well as Face to Face, the 4th album (and first in a row of masterpieces) by The Kinks. 1976 and 1966, respectively. No offense to Kanye West, Timberlake, Daft Punk, David Bowie, and the other current superstars who will be talked about in all end of the year best-of lists; I’ve spent plenty of time in the company of contemporary songs too, but sometimes you just need to re-visit timeless pleasures from bygone eras. For me, vintage bands like The Ramones and The Kinks will never go out of style; true, I wasn’t even born until long after both aforementioned albums had disappeared from the charts, but even upon discovering them in my own youth, I’ve needed to keep them close ever since, even as I trek forward through the ever-expanding wonderland of pop culture, making an exhausting effort to keep up with hype and new releases and obscure personal interests (i.e. when should I expect Kepi Ghoulie’s annual recording?). Good music can be defined any number of ways, but for me, the good music that counts, that will always be part of the Michael Browne Library of Essential Listening, is that which doesn’t simply come and go with the tides. Dancing along with the zeitgeist, living and listening in the moment, that’s one thing, but to still want and cherish a song years later, far removed from relevance and well beyond the increasingly transient shelf life that our over-saturated attention spans afford each new item, that’s some special sauce.

 

My library of choice is iTunes; that’s where I store all the music I like, past and present, and though I add hundreds of new songs every single year, time is so despicably finite that I can’t possibly have maxed out my enjoyment of all 1,510 2012-dated tunes even by this point, six months hence, and even less efficiently with 549 (and counting) mint-condition tracks from 2013 already in storage. For the dedicated, omnivorous music fan, it’s a fool’s game trying to absorb it all. By necessity, a lot of the material will be neglected in one way or another. I do my best to rotate my variety of music tastes on a regular basis, giving everything I like an equal at-bat ratio, but something’s always gotta give, especially in the long run. Who knows what 2013 albums I’ll still be listening to in 2014? Or 2024, even. Unlike throughout most of the 20th century, advances in archiving and storage space will probably help keep every last song I’ve ever saved in my library right at my fingertips for the rest of my life, but since we still haven’t discovered the fountain of youth yet, the supply-to-demand balance is going to tip overwhelmingly in the former’s favor, leaving me with infinitely more music but just as little time to listen to any of it.

 

Not that I’m complaining about having a steady income of great music to look forward to, and I don’t mean this article to sound negative. Bittersweet, I’d say. I love music so much that I’m horribly greedy with and insufficiently grateful to my allotted time for it. Give me more, I can’t keep up!

 

All of which is to say, thank goodness I haven’t really fallen in love with any album this year. It might not be the music’s fault – maybe with so much out there to pour over, I just can’t focus on a single work long enough to soak in it properly, the way I used to when limited access fostered closer relationships with each individual work. Or maybe with so much available, so many roads to travel down everywhere you look, my standards have risen and I’m not as easily won over by whole albums. Or maybe it’s that common theory about the aftermath effect of iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, Rhapsody, etc., in which singles and mixes and playlists have dissected the art, unity, and importance of the album format. When it comes to albums these days, people are more likely to pan for gold and discard the rest. That’s just the way we’ve evolved. But there’s still a great joy to diving into a whole album, to studying and immersing oneself in the full length of what a musician has composed rather than just the highlights.

 

So why don’t I have any strong favorites for 2013 yet? I don’t know, I guess I’m an asshole. I’m evolving as a listener against my will, becoming the ADD-addled junkie that our exponentially growing menu of cultural options leaves me no choice to avoid being, if I want to sustain this hearty appetite for aural pleasure. And seeing how bountiful the harvest continues to be, boy do I. Now if only I could really latch onto one…

 

…in the meantime, lots and lots of terrific songs so far. Here are some of the finer candidates for kickass longevity. 2020s, meet your choice oldies:

(arranged alphabetically)

  • Walking on the Streets  /  Beach Day  (Trip Trap Attack)

    • Penny  /  Hanni el Khatib  (Head in the Dirt)

    • From Wichita with Love  /  Tullycraft (Lost in Light Rotation)
    • Step  /  Vampire Weekend (Modern Vampires of the City)
    • pretty much the entire album Modern Vampires of the City  /  Vampire Weekend
    • Gang of Rhythm  /  Walk Off the Earth (R.E.V.O.)

 

POP SONGS I FEEL GUILT ABOUT LIKING, BECAUSE I’M REALLY NOT THE DEMOGRAPHIC AND I CAN SEE WHY PEOPLE MIGHT FIND THEM ANNOYING, BUT HONESTLY, I KIND OF LOVE ‘EM

    • Release You  /  Megan and Liz (like a cross between Icona Pop and Carly Rae Jepsen)

      • What a Night  /  Loveable Rogues (goofy, heavily-accented UK party earworm)

    • Here’s to Never Growing Up  /  Avril Lavigne (she’s good at leading up to new albums with big anthems)

 

Back to albums, I think ultimately I’m just being way too picky, because honestly, the best couple of them come July 2013, like Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City or Tegan & Sara’s Heartthrob, may not be flawless but they are stunning, present well-known artists in an exhilarating new light, and are impossible to leave behind as I pile on the newer music month after month. Meanwhile, genre picks like The Tossers’ Irish-punk Emerald City or Wednesday 13’s horror-metal The Dixie Dead may be a bit derivative within their respective orbits and not quite all-killer/no-filler, but they’re so fun to listen to that I feel like a Scrooge complaining here about the lack of greatness in 2013. In the end there’s no need for absolutes and pretentious qualifiers – let’s just say that the tidal wave of music coming out this year is a blast, like it always is every year and always will be going forward, and I won’t stop ’till I get enough.

 

MY FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2013 SO FAR (come December, I’ll expound on the awesomeness of whichever of these survives top-10 placement through the end of the year; I suspect only the top 4 have a solid chance)

      1. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City
      2. Tegan and Sara: Heartthrob
      3. Iron & Wine: Ghost on Ghost
      4. Daft Punk: Random Access Memories
      5. Camera Obscura: Desire Lines
      6. They Might Be Giants: Nanobots
      7. The Mowgli’s: Waiting for the Dawn
      8. Beach Day: Trip Trap Attack
      9. Free Energy: Love Sign
      10. Kermit Ruffins: We Partyin’ Traditional Style

 

GOOD NEW ACTS MAKING THEIR DEBUTS

      1. Superhuman Happiness: Hands (elaborately crafted art-pop celebrations)
      2. FIDLAR: self-titled (shoutalong punk with a Ramones-esque ’60s-influence bounce)
      3. Anamanaguchi: Endless Fantasy (exuberant Nintendo-electronica)
      4. Walk Off the Earth: R.E.V.O. (summery pop/rock)
      5. Classixx: Hanging Gardens (ambient electro with some melodicism)
      6. Bleached: Ride Your Heart (scrappy all-girl power pop/garage rock)
      7. The Olms: self-titled (country road-style folk / Pete Yorn/J.D. King collaboration)
      8. When Nalda Became Punk: A Farewell to Youth (cute keyboard-happy indie pop)
      9. Willy Moon: Here’s Willy Moon (hip hop meets ’50s pop, not quite a success, but has potential)
      10. Night Beds: Country Sleep (aka Fleet Foxes Jr., lush melancholy folk with a tenor-ous lead singer)

 

OVERRATED ALBUMS

      1. Kanye West: Yeezus (startling sound, abysmal lyrics, experimentation don’t always mean brilliance)
      2. Queens of the Stone Age: …Like Clockwork (I’ll never get their appeal, sorry)
      3. The National: Trouble Will Find Me (I can see why this is fairly appealing, but THAT great, really?)
      4. David Bowie: The Next Day (don’t know what I was expecting, maybe ‘7os-era Bowie, but I could hardly get through this)
      5. The Knife: Shaking the Habitual (audacious but punishing, and didn’t seem worth the 96-minute gauntlet)

 

DISAPPOINTING ALBUMS THAT I HAD HIGH HOPES FOR

      1. The Lonely Island: The Wack Album (their hip hop production value is as towering as ever, but the songs just aren’t funny this time, and at 20 tracks, that’s a lot of bad jokes)
      2. The Strokes: Comedown Machine (about ready to give up on these guys; their comeback has been pretty miserable)
      3. The Eels: Wonderful, Glorious (more of the same; no sense of adventure or spark for several albums now)
      4. Beady Eye: BE (I felt alone in defending their first album, Different Gear, Still Speeding, but now I see what everyone was complaining about: one turgid, dull Oasis knock-off after another on here)
      5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Mosquito (props for continuing to explore different styles and song structures, but it hardly ever pays off with listenable songs)
      6. Phoenix: Bankrupt! (interesting, and with a rich production, but unsatisfying)
      7. Dropkick Murphys: Signed and Sealed in Blood (decent, but very underwhelming; no tracks even close to as rousing as the last album’s Springsteen duet “Peg O’ My Heart” or the acoustic call-to-arms anthem “Take ‘Em Down”)
      8. She & Him: Volume Three (terminally agreeable. I love old-fashioned pop and this type of modern throwback is normally my bread and butter, but M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel just make it boring. Try The Carrots instead – their recent album New Romance isn’t as melancholy as She & Him, but it does innocent girl-group homage better)

UPCOMING ALBUMS I’M HOPING WILL BECOME BEST-OF-THE-YEAR MATERIAL, OR AT LEAST YIELD SOME MEMORABLE SONGS

      1. CHVRCHES: The Bones of What You Believe (September 24) – half this album has already been released in singles over the past year, and each one has been mesmerizing, so I’m pretty confident in pre-emptively adding this to the Album of the Year shortlist
      2. MATES OF STATE: (not yet officially announced)
      3. PINK MARTINI: (not yet officially announced)
      4. NEKO CASE: The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You (September 3)
      5. FRANZ FERDINAND: Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions (August 27)
      6. CROCODILES: Crimes of Passion (August 20)
      7. MAYER HAWTHORNE: Where Does This Door Go (July 16)
      8. SUPERCHUNK: I Hate Music (August 20)
      9. COLLEGE: Heritage (August 26)
      10. OKKERVIL RIVER: The Silver Gymnasium (September 3)

 

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