It was a very good year. A great year even. Hell, The Replacements played their first shows in 22 years. And from a rock & roll point of view, that should make it the best year in, well, 22 years. That they took to the stage with the energy of an atomic bomb on pharmaceutical speed playing so many songs from that brilliant first album is perhaps just a bonus, though I prefer to think of it as fate. That the rock gods were looking down and thought we needed a reminder of the chaos, the sputtering genius, the sheer power that rock could provide. And they all looked at one another, and shrugged, the answer obvious, time for the Mats to play a few shows.
It was a year in which their first album, SORRY MA, FORGOT TO TAKE OUT THE TRASH, suddenly became this old fan’s favorite Replacements record. Can’t explain it really. Perhaps the seeds were planted when I started work on COLOR ME OBSESSED, A FILM ABOUT THE REPLACEMENTS, but those seeds sprouted and bloomed this year. I love that record. Played it more than any other this year. Realized there wasn’t a bad track on it. That is contained some of the most brilliant licks, sarcastic jabs, and all-out fuck-you rock & roll EVER recorded. And ok, it’s 32 years after the fact, but better late than never.
But it was also a year in which other old punks blinded us with their brilliance. Superchunk and Grant Hart put out two wildly different records in I HATE MUSIC and THE ARGUMENT, but both were vast in scope and timelessness, as if both artists had been holding back for all these years, and for some reason felt it were time to unleash the monsters they had munching on their souls. These are the sort of albums that make you cry the first time you hear them. They did me. They are faith renewing. Faith in the power of music to make your mind dance.
The young woman behind my favorite album from 2012 (and it still remains at the top of that list), Katie Crutchfield, returned with a very strong follow up in CERULEAN SALT. And though it seemed to widen her fan base, it didn’t resonate with me the way AMERICAN WEEKEND did last year. But to compare it to that masterpiece is selling the album short. It’s a great record. (NOTE: if any of you were turned off by the worst video of the year in COAST TO COAST, proof that still photographers rarely can make the jump to shooting images that move, Ms. Crutchfield more than made up for it in the video for MISERY OVER DISPUTE.)
David Bowie returned with a record that in parts took me back to being a 13-year-old and hearing ZIGGY STARDUST for the first time. Was it a perfect record, no. But a number of its songs were perfect, noisy in the way that only Tony Visconti could create in 1972. And coming from Bowie with Visconti behind the boards, that’s enough.
Aubery Debauchery also returned after too many years with a mature (in the best sense of that word) collection of songs that seemed almost harshly reflective on her past. She bared her soul and in turn broke my heart. I love this woman’s voice.
With all the great alt-country female artists making waves this year, none shined brighter than Amanda Shires. Her album was not a collection of a few “hits” and a lot of filler, but instead well-thought out record with one song being stronger than the next. And the same can be said of Lorde. Unlike the other pop queens, her album shined from the first note to the last. ROYALS is not even the best track.
It was one of those years. Great ALBUMS. Not just random collections of songs. Listen to ONCE I WAS AN EAGLE from Laura Marling or the rapturous return to form from Throwing Muses in PURGATORY / PARADISE (it was certainly a Milton inspired year) to the dangerous sexual anarchy of Sky Ferreira. (And ok, while Miley Cyrus’ latest certainly doesn’t fall into the best album category, WRECKING BALL was the single that stuck in my head more than any other, and never once did I mind. It’s a brilliant ballad. Beautifully performed, and nicely under-produced for a “hit.”)
New rock was also alive in Potty Mouth and Speedy Ortiz. Electric folk was injected with new life in Jake Bugg. And some of the greatest musicians of recent memory came together to help a fallen guitar legend in SONG FOR SLIM.
And, oh yeah, The Replacements put out a 5-song EP for that same reason. And they covered EVERYTHING’S COMING UP ROSES from the old musical GYPSY. And really now, does it get any better than that?
My Best Albums of 2013 (in alphabetical order):
THE ARGUMENT – Grant Hart
CERULEAN SALT – Waxahatchee
DEATH OF A DREAM – Aubery Debauchery & The Broken Bones
DOWN FELL THE DOVES – Amanda Shires
HELL BENT – Potty Mouth
I HATE MUSIC – Superchunk
JAKE BUGG – Jake Bugg
LIVE AT THE CELLAR DOOR – Neil Young
MAJOR ARCANA – Speedy Ortiz
THE NEXT DAY – David Bowie
NIGHT TIME, MY TIME – Sky Ferreira
ONCE I WAS AN EAGLE – Laura Marling
PURE HEROINE – Lorde
PURGATORY / PARADISE – Throwing Muses
SONGS FOR SLIM – Various Artists
SONGS FOR SLIM – The Replacements
SINGLE OF THE YEAR:
WRECKING BALL – Miley Cyrus
MUSIC VIDEOS OF THE YEAR:
69 – Ida Maria
MASTER HUNTER – Laura Marling
BIGGEST JOKE OF THE YEAR
Critics who kiss Kanye West’s ass (learn there is a difference between a brilliant artist who takes chances, and a self-indulgent egomaniac who thinks he can fart into a can and it will sell a million copies because it carries his name).
NEBRASKA – a simple story with breathtaking performances told in resplendent black and white. A masterpiece.
FRANCES HA – a heart-breaking portrait of Greta Gerwig as a confused young woman. A beautiful, subtle performance. (And though it’s also in black and white, after watching the embarrassingly pretentious DVD extra about the film’s look, I might suggest that Sam Levy and company watch NEBRASKA so they can learn what black and white should really look like.)
BLACKFISH – a must-watch film about a different sort of animal abuse. And it’s having an impact. Kudos to every musician who’s cancelled shows at Sea World.
DVD OF THE YEAR:
STARLET – the poster child for what a great indie film should be. Drew Hemingway is a revelation. And the many extras are all worth watching.
Unfortunately it was the year of shark jumping. Lots and lot of shark jumping.
BOOK OF THE YEAR:
HYPERBOLE AND A HALF – Allie Brosh – if Kurt Vonnegut was a 20-something woman living in Bend, Oregon today this would have been his first book. And I can’t give it higher praise than that.
FILM-RELATED BOOK OF THE YEAR:
TELL ME SOMETHING: ADVICE FROM DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKERS – a collection of short clippets of advise from the world’s greatest documentarians. Think of it as Chicken Soup for the Filmmaker’s Soul. But work reading by any and every artist, if only for Errol Morris’ wise words of wisdom: “When you go to people for advice, expect the worst.”