By Russ Marshalek
While 2013 was a tumultuous year for me personally, musically it was one of my favorite in recent memory. A veritable parade of artists whose work normally end up as my favorite album of any given year all released vital work, but hinged definingly to that was my experience of the year itself. Is there an alternate timeline, a different 2013 in which I was able to abide the new Daft Punk, in which I didn’t eschew the tumblr-art aesthetic and the majority of the music that came with it, in which I didn’t find a lot of enthusiasm to outweigh the actual musical product? It would have to be the same alternate reality in which 2013 didn’t kick my teeth in from the word “go”.
All of this is to say: these are my records of 2013, and in that way this is the story of the last year of my life.
My favorite album of the year, by far:
Kanye West, Yeezus
A contentious, legendary album before it even leaked, this was the moon landing of 2013. I’ll always remember where I was when I got the Facebook IM “Yeezus leaked. Here it is. I’m deleting this in 30 minutes.” After downloading the .zip file over what felt like an enormous expanse of time due to my apartment’s almost-legendarily shitty internet, I dropped it into iTunes only to have to question the record’s authenticity when the compressed squall of “On Site” started blaring out of my laptop’s speakers. What the hell was I hearing? I loaded the record onto my phone and took it to the gym, and then I understood. Kanye had given us his version of the beautiful 12” record packaged in sandpaper, a self-destructing self-lacerating love note.
Yeezus isn’t an album about triumph over adversity, no. It’s an album about reminding one’s self that triumph over adversity is possible. There’s a chasm of difference between the former and the latter; it’s the difference between, say, believing in The Secret and believing in your own work. So yeah, Kanye’s a god, but don’t we all have the capacity to be, in our own way, if we let ourselves?
Ultimately, Yeezus is a nasty, dirty, inspiring and fiercely brilliant car-crash of a pop album that absolutely no one else had the guts or heart to make.
Here are my 9 other favorite albums from the past year, in alphabetical order
ADULT., The Way Things Fall
Rather than perjure myself, I’ll direct you to what I wrote about this record, and this band, and my mental illness, over at Ad Hoc.
Autre Ne Veut, Anxiety
Like the ADULT. record, a truly fantastic album about human interplay and interaction, and the war between mind and body. Many a morning were spent on the G train over the past year crying softly to this album.
Azar Swan, Dance Before The War
One of the most promising bands of 2013 actually ended up delivering on that potential in spades with their debut album, which I’ve already written about for this very site.
Suffice to say if you like sounds, at all, in any way, even just the sounds of cats purring or a whatever, you should listen to this record because it’s comforting and jarring at the same time in way that would make Yeezus smile.
Drake, Nothing Was The Same
I’m not going to look you in the face and tell you that I think Nothing Was The Same is as good as Take Care. I can’t do that. But what I can say is that NWTS grows more and reaches deeper, and the very same songs, or parts of songs, that I’ve found myself ardently arguing about with Lyle and then days later using as mantras (“this that shit i wanna go out to!”). While my band was on tour, I watched from the television set in a roach-infested SC motel room as Drake performed “Too Much” live for the first time on a late-night show and couldn’t stop sobbing. For me, that song is the album’s highlight.
Jean Grae, Gotham Down
Technically a trio of EPs, the first long-form music released from my favorite rapper/human in a very long time is fittingly hilarious, terrifying, achingly sad and utterly weird. Ostensibly about time travel, murder, assassins and video games, it showcases Jean’s stark beats as much as her legendary wordplay. I’ll never be able to recover from “Before The Summer Broke”. It may very well be my next tattoo.
Lady Gaga, Artpop
Already said it. To paraphrase the otherwise-useless Christine McVie, haters haters haters hi hi haters haters hi
OOFJ, Disco To Die To
What a fucking beautiful record this is. It’s the sound of Badalamenti making a crystalline electronic pop album out of ice and blood for the pre-shitty Art Basel days. Deeply affecting to the core, I must insist that you buy this album on vinyl to really understand it.
The Knife, Shaking The Habitual
It’s all here, but suffice to say seeing this show live changed the way I conceptualize almost everything having to do with live performance. Fuck your politics, let’s dance.
The National, Trouble Will Find Me
The National = my year. There’s a lot to be said for the impact this album, and the music of The National in general, have had on me. I wrote about a lot of that here, but on the topic of this album specifically: it moves in washes and shades of grey. It’s an ambient shoegaze heartbreak narration of getting older and losing more and more. And, oh yeah, Matt Berninger gave me his bottle of wine.