2013: A Great Year for Music

Seems just a few years ago there were a lot of too-serious discussions about whether rock/pop music is dead.  This year, we had quite a bit of good new music available for anyone who cared to listen.  I’ve listed some of my favorites below.  Feel free to add some of your own in the comments.

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

At the very top of my list of music releases is The National’s brilliant album, Trouble Will Find Me. Not just my favorite album of the year, possibly of the decade.  It’s a solid effort from first to last, with not a stinker among the album’s 13 tracks.  While several of the songs, like “Don’t Swallow the Cap” and “Graceless,” jumped out as great from the beginning, upon repeated listening (I’ve probably listened to this whole album all the way through around 200 times or so), the songs on the back half of the album (especially “Humiliation” and “Pink Rabbits”) emerged as the strongest of all.  The musicianship is as tight and polished as ever, and Berninger’s lyrics cleverly sprinkle pop culture references alongside the self-effacing neuroses.

Vampire Weekend – Vampires of The Modern City

While perhaps more polarizing than their earlier albums, Vampire Weekend released a very good album this year.  Though a bit more self-indulgent (which, for VW, is probably too self-indulgent by half for many listeners), there are good hooks and clever lyrics that obsess heavily on religious themes alongside the usual reflections of an upper-middle-class, east-coast lifestyle.  Suitable both for parties and long nights of introspection.

Lorde – “Royals”

I think the Lorde backlash may be reaching its peak based on the overplay this song has gotten in the last few months.  People seem to love it or hate it.  Still, I think it’s a classic pop song.  For me, I take probably an unjustified amount of satisfaction knowing that this 16-year-old kiwi’s song is the articulate counterpoint to Miley Cyrus’s inane twerking-pseudo-gangsta persona.  Plus, you can kill a good afternoon watching mostly terrible, sometimes brilliant Royals covers on YouTube, assuming you have nothing better to do with your time.

Mowgli’s – “San Francisco”

At the risk of stating the obvious, YouTube comments are not normally the place to find insight.  But it’s there I was informed that “San Francisco” is the happiest song you’ll ever hear written in a minor key.  And it’s that insight that made me realize the genius of this song.

San Cisco – San Cisco

This Aussie pop-punk outfit is one of my favorite recent discoveries.  More bands ought to write songs like this: music that is neither too serious nor too shallow, and catchy as anything.

CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe

The best techno-pop album of recent memory.  Catchy, bitter and romantic, if you’re down for that sort of thing.  This Scottish band (don’t fret, it’s pronounced “churches”) has their aesthtic pretty nailed down on their debut album.

Leagues – “You Belong Here”

As near as I can tell, this is being sung to someone who has been abducted by a religious cult and is being advised to just go with it.  Or something like that.  Anyway, great song.

Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze

Kurt Vile makes a pretty good argument on his latest album that he’s both a guitar hero and stoner-slacker genius.  It never gets too heavy.  My only complaint is that sometimes the songs go on a bit long for my short attention span.  Maybe I just need to relax, man.

Haim – “The Wire”

A trio of sisters from the Valley performing in a style that sounds kind of like they are singing Eagles covers?  It doesn’t seem like it should work, but it does.

Frightened Rabbit – “Woodpile”

There’s something earnest and grand and a little paranoid about Frightened Rabbit’s music.  Not a bad thing.  I don’t know whether Frightened Rabbit has ever toured with Grizzly Bear or Fleet Foxes, but they should.

Movie Review: Looper

Rian Johnson’s Looper is a multi-layered action-sci-fi-drama that delivers strong performances and a compelling, if somewhat brutal, cinematic experience.

Looper takes place in a dystopian near future.  In 2044, poverty and crime are rampant, and control of everything has been taken over by gangsters.  Time travel doesn’t exist yet, but it will three decades later, and it will be highly illegal, not well understood, and only used by criminals.  Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)  is so-called “looper,” an very specialized assasin (executioner, really) whose job it is to go to a pre-established location at a given time, and execute hog-tied, gagged and hooded persons that are zapped back from 30-years in the future as soon as they arrive in the present.  The looper then disposes of the body and collects his reward, bars of silver that are sent back with the person to be executed.  At some point, every looper knows that the crime bosses in the future may decide to “close the loop” by sending the looper’s future self back to be killed.  For this special killing, the looper is rewarded in gold bars and released from any further obligations or duties.  All of this is revealed in the movie’s first few minutes–much of it through voice-over exposition–so when Joe find himself staring at his future self (Bruce Willis), it’s not at all a  surprise, but entirely expected.  (If you’ve seen the Looper trailer, you know this is coming, but this is really all premise, not spoiler.)  But, when it does happen, something’s gone awry. Old Joe isn’t bound, gagged and hooded as expected, and this gives him just enough time to cold-cock his younger self, escape his fate, and begin pursuit of his own future-changing agenda in the past/present.  Mayhem, needless to say, ensues.

Continue reading