I asked friend, musician, and McDaniel College's Writing Center Director Josh Ambrose for his thoughts on the music of 2013. His honest, humorous insights below.
Fun times. Let me think about this. Honestly, not listening to a lot of 2013 releases… here's a few reactions:
The Lone Bellow, Self-titled: Transcends the yawning torch songs of the Civil Wars and the predictable faux-folk of Mumford to create a brilliant folk-pop record with some legit grit to it.
Chvrches, The Bones of What You Believe: Lived up to the hype and then some. Ear-worm songs with enough depth that you don't hate yourself after listening to them multiple times.
Hammock, Oblivion Hymns: A favorite ambient band that pays homage to A Winged Victory for the Sullen's string-driven minimalism on their latest album and adds some interesting choral aspects for kicks. A bit of a guilty pleasure given the familiar gauze in line with past releases, but hey, it works for me.
Janelle Monaé, The Electric Lady: Not nearly as great as her first two albums, but still immensely danceable, intelligent, and beguilingly quirky.
Sigur Rós, Kveikur: After the snooze-fest of their last album and the loss of some longtime collaborators, they tightened up their sound and sounded downright passionate on this year's release. And the rhythm section has never done more interesting things.
Foals, Holy Fire: Who knew they could RAWK?
The National, Trouble Will Find Me: Not as revelatory as the last album, but still authentic, intelligent, and altogether enjoyable.
Lorde, Pure Heroine: Flash in the pan? Overplayed? Time will tell. But the album is damn impressive for a bedroom album and beats the shit out of the Dr. Luke pop machine competing on the airwaves.
There should be an overhyped/most disappointing category, as well. Contenders for me:
Haim (Days Are Gone) and Waxahatchee (Cerulean Salt): I love girl-fronted rock. St Vincent wows me. I don't get these albums, tho I'm sure I'd enjoy them if I saw them at a bad bar downtown (see also: Japandroids).
Arcade Fire, Reflektor: Haters be damned, when these guys are doing sincere anthems, I'm on board. Unfortunately, this album peters out after the first few songs; ten listens later, I can only remember two tracks from the entire double-disc. Sidenote: congas on every track doesn't equal wild jungle rhythm, dude.
Joy Formidable, Wolf's Law: loved the double-kick drum beauty of Whirring. Bored to tears here.
Daft Punk, Random Access Memories: Self-indulgent—with some highlight tracks, to be sure. Would have made a nice EP.
Kanye West, Yeezus: I suspect the same people who like Kanye's "intelligence" tell themselves they watch Game of Thrones for its "deep insights" on power.
Cut Copy, Free Your Mind: Oh, how the mighty have fallen!