By: Ben Johnson
2013 was a really important year for music. A lot of really, really important music happened in it. Some people made some music this year that was different than any music has ever been before, and music is going to be different from now on based on some of this year’s important music. That is important. When music is different than other music, it’s a big, big deal.
Why is it important? Because there are people whose entire job is to talk about music, and when they’re talking about music, they need to have things to say. They can’t just say, “It’s music, what do you want from me?” They have to say why it’s music. You know, if it’s good or if it’s bad and why it’s that way, and what music is better than other music, and all that stuff. That’s their job, and that job is a lot easier when the music they have to talk about is somehow slightly different than the previous music they’ve already talked about. Otherwise they’d just go, “Remember Counting Crows? It’s that all over again [20 minutes of silence].” And then, accurate or not, they would get fired from their talking about music job.
Most people like music. Many people like music but have busy lives, so they don’t have time to figure out what the good music is. They need a person to say “Hey, person who has no chance of even being exposed to it in the first place, don’t waste your time with a bunch of ridiculous squealing guitar noise shit from some untalented and obscure Australian punk band that, statistically, you’ll have no chance of actually enjoying, just stick with the new Kanye album. He’s good, he’s talented, his music is acceptably enjoyable, and more importantly Kanye is interesting enough to talk about for the following number of paragraphs. Here are some things you might mention to acquaintances in case the conversational topic of Kanye West comes up.” There is value in being told that. In people’s lives.
Remember Rolling Stone? I used to get the Rolling Stone Physical Magazine in the mail when I was like 12, and then I got curious about the phone sex places that advertised in the back of it, and my Mom saw the phone bill had all these expensive calls to the Dominican Republic on it and she called the number and there was a recorded voice of a moaning lady on it, and that was that. No more Rolling Stone Magazine for me. That’s okay. Who wants to read a 6,500 word puff piece about the Spin Doctors anyway? Certainly not 12 year old me.
Here’s the Rolling Stone Best 50 Albums of 2013:
50. Beck “Song Reader”
Oh right. This is that thing where it's just printed music and then people do a version of it and then Beck puts it on his website and it's like a "new social media meets pre-recording technology" thinkpiece bait. But then you won't believe what happens next: the entire universe rolled its eyes. I'm kind of proud of us as a species for not making a bigger deal out of this. Can you imagine if Kanye had done something like this? My God. I like Beck. He seems like a funny guy. His music started sucking once he did that "okay I'm a serious artist now" breakup album, but I don't blame him for that. You can't stay 25 forever. It's also not his fault his Dad is a Scientologist and those people kick you out of having a Dad if you can't pretend to also be a Scientologist.
49. The Flaming Lips "The Terror"
One thing I am not going to do is listen to this Flaming Lips album just so I can make some offhandedly callous joke about The Flaming Lips. Listening to the Flaming Lips in order to make fun of the Flaming Lips for being the Flaming Lips is like you might as well be the Flaming Lips at this point.
48. Fuck Buttons "Slow Focus"
48 is a good spot to be in. It's right after the "we are contractually obligated to mention whatever Flaming Lips thing happened this year and whatever extreme concept album somebody did" spots. 48 has a chance to be something pretty good that somebody slipped in there without anybody noticing. This is pretty good if you like long dark synth jams that land about a quarter of the way between M83 and Indian Jewelry, which you might. Stranger things have been known to happen.
47. M.I.A. "Mitangi"
I moved in with my girlfriend to an apartment located in a boringly pleasant neighborhood and we got a dog and I started grad school this year, which are all banal facts about me that explain why I did not know there was a new M.I.A. album this year until I read this. Does anybody else think it's a little weird that doughy middle aged white guys like (soon enough) myself are the ones most visibly judging the relative merits of recordings such as this one, clearly intended to serve as either the soundtrack or at least a reference point to some kind of wild night of multicultural partying? This sounds like it would be my favorite album of the year if I was a Hispanic teenaged girl having a party summer in The Bronx. I mean, I guess. How would I know?
46. Franz Ferdinand "Right Thoughts Right Words Right Actions"
It was very brave of these guys to come out with an album title that might remind anybody how musically similar they are to Jesus Jones.
45. Avicii "True"
One aspect of how important music was this year is the way people have been shittily blending multiple shitty genres. It's a harbinger of a shitty future where everything is exactly the same kind of shitty, rather than the old pick-and-choose shitty of yesteryear.
44. Valerie June "Pushin' Against A Stone"
My kneejerk knows the drill on stuff like this. I don't care and am not impressed whenever the thing I'm supposed to care about or be impressed by is the fact that somebody wrote and sang their own songs while playing their own guitar at the same time. Additionally, anything "Roots" or "Americana" is boring and awful. But then I had a revelation: I'm at a point in my life where I can now relate more easily to stuff like this than I can relate to that M.I.A. album. I'm especially fond of this album's pleasant ignorability. What it lacks in sonic originality is more than made up for by its complete absence of excitement or surprises. It's the ideal music to wait out the end of your life to.
43. Savages "Silence Yourself"
Oh man I had a really good one for this that I figured out immediately when it came out and I can't remember it now. Maybe I tweeted it. Oh yeah! Siouxsie And The Oh Sees. Man, what a great gag. Classic gag. I'm taking a victory lap on it instead of coming up with a new one because I have a feeling this album is on everybody's list.
42. Earl Sweatshirt "Doris"
Oh this is the Odd Future-related artist of the year. I like it. It's about time a rapper hired Trans Am as a backing band.
41. J. Cole "Born Sinner"
I like how full albums are on YouTube now and I like how you can open up a new tab and work on something else for a while and I like how there's sometimes commercials in between the tracks in the full album and I like how sometimes your favorite track turns out to be a Taco Bell commercial, and some other times you can't tell why Taco Bell is dropping so many N-bombs.
40. Pearl Jam "Lightning Bolt"
NOBODY NEEDED THIS.
|Maybe this is Keith Urban|
39. Keith Urban "Fuse"
I will now attempt to talk about Keith Urban using only the information available in my brain, sans Google and definitely definitely sans actually listening to this. Keith Urban is possibly the Australian country singer who is a judge on one of those talent shows, I think the one where you hit a button and the camera zooms in. He may also be the guy whose concert Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper said the N-word at, and may additionally have been the guy who did the "Accidental Racist" song that LL Cool J recently cashed in on. He is always a threat to either sing about a football game that's about to start or else sing during halftime of a football game. He is a country guy, like one of the new ones, and he is probably a gigantic star who could never walk into a Meijer's without being torn to shreds but would absolutely be safe in my front yard, where I would look at him through my blinds and say "who is this guy" and my girlfriend would say "I think that's Keith Urban or maybe Toby Keith, one or the other."
38. Kurt Vile "Wakin on a Pretty Daze"
I like how Kurt Vile did that covers thing at The Onion AV Club and chose "Down In It" by Nine Inch Nails and when asked why he chose it managed to not just say, "because it was the easiest song to learn of the ones you had left for this bullshit idea of yours." Kurt seems like an extremely laid back dude.
37. The So So Glos "Blowout"
Pop punk gets a bad rep. Because it sucks. But this isn't so bad.
36. Waxahatchee, "Cerulean Salt"
Let's face it, guys. I have no patience. I have a zero tolerance policy on patience. That's a thing that's wrong with me that can cause problems in situations such as my entire life, which I typically spend being irrationally fucking furious that my dog hasn't pooped yet because for some reason I am white-knuckle adamant about going inside and sitting down and disinterestedly reading a magazine. But chronic impatience is not a problem if I don't feel like investigating the heartfelt-sounding musings in the second Waxahatchee album, which seem at first glance to fill the vital hole in rock left by Liz Phair's untimely death in 2002.
35. Best Coast "Fade Away"
Are people still talking about "garage" anything? Man, it was great when you could just say "garage" about something like this as a code word meaning "and now I'd like to stop talking about this forever, because it's nothing."
34. Neko Case, "The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You"
I'm not the type to sit and parse lyrics, especially when my ears are giving me fight or flight signals about possibly being trapped in an iPad commercial, but if I was this Neko Case album would be a mean motherfucker. Neko Case knows what she's doing even if she's not doing it to me.
33. Pusha T "My Name Is My Name"
Everything's an anthem these days. Everybody's laying it on the line. Every track is about the person on it. Taken individually it's defensible and even enjoyable, but as a whole rap is like if your Twitter feed was the only thing you could possibly read. After a while you just go, "Who ARE these people?"
32. Chvrches "The Bones of What You Believe"
Chvrches is Avril Levigne's new band*, and they're pretty great.
31. Haim "Days Are Gone"
You know what I've been getting really into these days? Hall and Oates. "Private Eyes" in particular is underrated. I know. Going through a SECOND Hall and Oates phase at age 34 is sad. But what else would you have me do? Dip back into the well of Steely Dan? That way lies desperation and madness. I'm fine right where I am. Mild boogie. Hold the jazz.
|2/9ths of Tegan & Sara|
30. Tegan & Sara "Heartthrob"
Do I like this or is it like one of those situations where I thought I really liked Pat Benetar the first nine times I heard "Love Is A Battlefield"? Wait a minute. I'm already tired. Listening to one Tegan & Sara song is like compressing nine Love is a Battlefields into 3 minutes.
29. Bombino "Nomad"
I can't think about Tuareg Rock without writing the world's most boring research paper in my head. Something about the conditions necessary for sustainable creativity in world music subgenres, like Guns, Germs, and Steel, and just as condescending, except for music. It's fucking awful. I hate having the instinct to think like that. I don't know the fuck anything about what it's like to make music in Sub-Saharan Africa. It's a defense mechanism. My brain just just doesn't know what to do with this music other than like it not as much as reggae.
28. Kacey Musgraves "Same Trailer Different Park"
I'm with YouTube commenter Scott Hogue on this. She's everything I like about Sheryl Crow and Natalie Maines wrapped into one. I'm blown away.
27. Miley Cyrus "Bangerz"
Things I would like to know about Miley Cyrus:
26. Chance The Rapper "Acid Rap"
I've never dropped acid. Part of me thinks I should at some point. Another part of me wants that other part to grow up. They're both overridden by the lazy part of me that is sure as shit not going to ask around about how to score acid and double sure as shit isn't gonna pay even one dollar worth of money to be all fucked up on acid for twelve hours or however long it is. So it's pure conjecture when I say this: listening to this on acid would probably bum me out.
25. Elton John "The Diving Board"
Is it okay just to mention that Elton John looks like Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a Liza Minelli costume if I don't place a value judgment on it? Just a statement of fact.
24. Eminem "Marshall Mathers LP 2"
THIS GUY IS OUTRAGEOUS. WHERE'S THE OUTRAGE?
23. My Bloody Valentine "MBV"
My Bloody Valentine are an interesting band in that they spent a long time figuring out who they were but then when they finally did they figured it too far out, and now here's their first album in 22 years and it's good but even sleepier than "Loveless" and the self-released LP retails for $30.50. That's about twice as far as I need any given rock band to figure themselves out.
22. Phoenix "Bankrupt!"
This cover looks like a classic "printed way too many of these" cover. It's like Brian Wilson "That Lucky Old Sun" meets The Allman Brothers Band "Eat A Peach." I am ready to see this thing nonstop in every bargain bin 20 years from now.
21. Sky Ferreira, "Night Time, My Time"
This is like one of those experimental albums where I see a boob but I'm not excited about it.
I'm not in love with myself for making that joke, but 50 is a lot of albums to not even pretend to listen to. This is good, though. It's a good, um, album of music with music in it.
20. Laura Marling "Once I Was An Eagle"
The stripped down production on these songs really give you a compellingly intimate sense of Marling's voice and guitar work. It's like she's there, right in front of your face, boring the everloving shit out of you.
19. Nine Inch Nails "Hesitation Marks"
This is my favorite album and my favorite movie is "The Matrix Revolutions" and my favorite economic principle is diminishing returns on an already crappy thing.
18. Ashley Monroe "Like A Rose"
This was #31 last year, #17 in 2011, #22 in 2011, and #40 in 2009, meaning it's now celebrating its fifth consecutive year of being a top 50 album of the year. Congratulations to this exact album for all I know and care on its unprecedented run of continuous yearly recognition. I can't wait to see where you'll end up next year.
17. Danny Brown "Old"
This is the third year I've done this, and it's an exhausting slog every time. I pretty much always end up hating music. I'm testy. I'm fatigued. I'm perfect. I'm a perfect critic right now, you guys. This Danny Brown album is probably really, really good, and if it was currently a record currently in my hands I would throw it at guaranteed shatter speed against the nearest thing like the Jewish Guy from Telegraph Avenue. I liked the first half of that book but stopped reading after the scene where Obama gives a shit about a bassist. Anyhow, this is a rap album. I mean, come on. What am I gonna do, try? For what?
16. David Bowie "The Next Day"
There are many things David Bowie has been throughout his life and career, and tolerable is not often one of them. But I do like the cover.
15. Atoms For Peace "Amok"
Atoms For Peace is Thom Yorke's new band*, and they're pretty great**.
14. Drake "Nothing Was The Same"
I'm just gonna let Kelly handle this.
13. Disclosure "Settle"
Look out, world. There's a new Pet Shop Boys in Town.
12. Jake Bugg "Jake Bugg"
Nice tight buns, and that brooding sensitive underclass hooligan thing going, and he walks around in Fred Perry shirts with a guitar smoking cigarettes and imagining he's Bob Dylan circa 1962? That's a dreamboat if I ever saw one. The songs? The songs are cute. What do you want me to say? The boy is 19. Look, there's a reason I keep a flat in Soho, and it's for lost weekends with little tramps like this. I know it's a dangerous game, but I play by the rules.
11. Parquet Courts "Light Up Gold"
Sorry Rolling Stone. This came out in 2012 and only got reissued on What's Your Rupture this year, so you don't get to pretend you were there, man. Not like me. I was THERE, man. I was at the... Snackbar loft(???)... under the BQE(?) when these guys had their FIRST show back in 2010(??). I had this on my top ten list before it even existed. Because Brooklyn everything all the time, 4 life. Seriously though, this is pretty good. Its goodness is not diminished by the fact that it's also interchangeable with about a dozen other similar good releases from over the last two years. I have no beef with it, and am glad there's music like this in the Rolling Stone top 50, but it's a strange token representative for an entire underrepresented end of the current musical spectrum. This is turning into What's Your Rupture's specialty. Some people threw their year end list hats in the ring for Royal Headache (another reissue) last year, and Iceage the year before that. The What's Your Rupture honcho needs to give his publicist a raise.
10. John Fogerty "Wrote A Song For Everyone"
Hey, I like CCR as much as the next red-blooded American. But let me get this straight. A guy whose post-CCR career has consisted largely of being sued for sounding too much like a CCR retread is re-recording a bunch of CCR songs with Kid Rock and My Morning Jacket and we're supposed to fall all over ourselves getting excited about it like it's the Johnny Cash "I'm About To Die" record?
9. Arctic Monkeys "AM"
I don't dislike the Arctic Monkeys, per se. They're like England's Spoon. They're good for one thing: producing that one single on the radio that you don't hate. Plus there's some decently hip between the lines stuff. It's fun to hear fake lo fi vocals percolate up to the Arctic Monkeys level. Also the rest of this album is largely horseshit, but that's the eternal burden of throwing a good single together. The rest of your songs sound like you're barely trying. Whatever, these guys don't need me to cut them a break. They're playing arenas. Good job with that hook in your single, fellas. Enjoy your bajillion dollars.
8. The National "Trouble Will Find Me"
The sex happening to this album is awkward and self-conscious and involves not particularly large or visible swaths of extremely pale skin.
7. Lorde "Pure Heroine"
Nelly Furtado 2.0 taking over, ya'll. Remember how inescapable "I'm Like A Bird" was? Lorde is giving me PTSD flashbacks of it. I've heard "Royals" on every radio station, regardless of format. They're playing it on three radio stations in your area right now, including the R&B/Hip Hop, modern rock hits, and Spanish language Christian AM talk radio stations. I'm pretty sure it's the song that eskimo sang to Sandra Bullock in Gravity. Finally somebody is becoming a worldwide superstar and multimillionaire on the strength of a mega-accessible unit-pushing machine of a single with a hook that's a list of material goods which later turns out to be ironic. It really restores my faith in everything being the exact same all the time no matter what.
6. Queens of the Stone Age "…Like Clockwork"
Listening to Queens of the Stone Age is like being transported to an alternate universe where "Badmotorfinger"-era Soundgarden was the only hugely popular rock band in the early 90's and there was no such thing as hair metal or grunge. It just went 80's new wave... SOUNDGARDEN. In this universe you're so pumped about "Rusty Cage" existing you're willing to overlook "Outshined" and the entire rest of the album. You just sit around going "yeah, but 'Rusty Cage' is an animal." I'm glad Josh Homme is literally back from the dead and making music again. Somebody needs to make radio-friendly rock music, and Homme has demonstrated a remarkable ability to kick total ass for the first song of an album. But also: "I sat by the ocean and drank a potion baby to erase you" are the kind of lyrics in a hit single that make me feel like an insane person. Those are "how come the world agreed to listen to 'Life Is A Highway' more than once ever?"-level lyrics.
5. Arcade Fire "Reflektor"
Confession time: I have gotten "Here Comes The Night Time" stuck in my head in a way where I wanted to listen to it again, and then I did, on purpose. That has happened. What has not happened is anything else.
4. Paul McCartney "New"
It's icky when white dudes like me talk about the Dave Chappelle Show like it was some kind of landmark in their life. It wasn't a landmark for me. It was a solid sketch comedy show with some good gags in it but also some catchphrases and hooks that took on way too much momentum, piling up the audience's expectations onto certain specificities (say "I'm Rick James, Bitch!" LOL) and suffocating the elasticity and rambling looseness that made the show funny in the first place. I hate when the "this is why we can't have nice things" syndrome happens to good comedy. Poor Dave Chappelle can't even do a show anymore. But anyway, there's a great moment early in the "Playa Hater's Ball" sketch where Ice-T is on the podium and somebody from the crowd yells "You look like a broke-ass Ice-T!" Sadly there's no video of it. But it kills me. Telling Ice-T that he looks like a broke ass version of himself is SO funny. I think you know where I'm going with this.
3. Daft Punk "Random Access Memories"
It's nice that we can all still agree that parties are fun. At least we have that.
2. Kanye West "Yeezus"
My friend Matty took exception to my pan of this (which I stand by--investigating the extent to which Kanye is or is not a genius is a giant waste of my time and energy, but that's just me), and loves this album, and we hashed out why in a series of text messages. The long and short of it is Matty used to be a goth. This is goth hip hop. It's some woe is me emo shit. Kanye invented goth hip hop, which I guess can be construed as an act of genius if you want to take it that way. I'm in the camp that prefers my music's emotional depth and range be confined to "Tutti Frutti, Oh Rudy." I've got enough emotions on my own. I don't need to borrow Kanye's.
1. Vampire Weekend "Modern Vampires of the City"
Here's your friendly reminder that white people are still on top. We have the money to pay for advertisements. We determine the course of culture. If we want glockenspiels and whistling and iPads and guys in beards making fun of each other while drinking Miller Lite, well, fuck you, that's what the rest of you are getting. What are you going to do about it, make a billion dollars? Please. We have all the billion dollarses. We drive Lexuses. We're sending our kids to college. They're going to major in Fucking You Over. This is our time. This is our music. Thank you for your time. All of it. We'll take that too.