2010 Year in Review, 2011 Year in Review and 2012 Year in Review.) I make several lists every December, but almost every year, the Music list is my favorite to compose. That said, unfortunately, I have to count this year as a notable exception. For reasons I can't quite explain, this just wasn't a big year for music. Not for me, at least. Looking back, I found that there were only a handful of albums released in 2013 that made me sit up and take notice, and very few of those were ones that, I suspect, will stand the test of time. That's not to say, of course, that there weren't plenty of songs that found their way onto my regular playlists, but rather that they did so independent of their album's cohorts.
As a consequence, I've decided to amend my usual practice of including only albums on this year-end Music list. Instead, I'm listing singles, because imho 2013 offered up a lot of really great singles on otherwise ho-hum albums. (Don't worry, though, I'll let you know in what follows if the whole album is worth a listen.) In no particular order, here are my picks for the Best of the 2013 Year in Music.
Justin Timberlake, "Drink You Away"
My hometown Memphian JT's The 20/20 Experience is most definitely one of the exceptions to my 2013 no-albums proviso. This is an amazing album that hits on all cylinders: pop, rock, soul, R&B... that is to say, in every single way that 901 music does and always has hit. One of the things that I love about JT is that, despite his former boy-band-cum-Disney career path, he's never totally let go of his River City roots. For those of you who may not know, Memphis has always been a bona fide melting pot of musical genres and talents. We're not Nashville, Chicago, Austin, New York or L.A.-- by which I mean, among other things, that we're not a town where talented musicians go to make it big-- but Memphis is, and will always be, the town that talented musicians have to at least pass through to be the bona fide talented musicians that they are. The 20/20 Experience is chock-full with chart-toppers, to be sure, but my personal favorite is "Drink You Away," which is sooooo gritty, gutsy, raw and pathos-laden that it might as well be the theme song of each and every Memphian:
Pink ft. Nate Ruess, "Just Give Me A Reason"
If you picked two vocalists for whom I have a totally pathological adoration, Pink and (Fun. frontman) Nate Ruess would be the two. Generally speaking, I don't count myself among the sentimental types, but "Just Give Me A Reason," by these two, absolutely gutted me the first time I heard it. And, to its credit, has done so over and over again every single time I hear it again. No kidding, I would put this song in the same category as Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" and Willie Nelson's "You Were Always on My Mind" and (what is, in my view, the saddest song ever written) Sugarland's "Very Last Country Song." All that is to say, this song accomplishes everything that is wrong about love in every way that is right about music and songwriting. There is very little more desperately and fundamentally empathy-inspiring to anyone who has ever loved than the lyric "just give me a reason" why it cannot be so. Alas, were it the case that broken loves are only just bent:
It took me a minute to love this song, which I was initially suspicious of because it was just sooo damn catchy, but then I looked up the lyrics and completely got on board. (Also, for the record, Lorde's entire album Pure Heroine is worth every every minute.) This song, in particular, is such a welcome relief from the diamond-bling commodity fetishism of most pop music. Special kudos to Lorde for making a virtuous attempt to recalibrate our desires. Some of us, anyway, crave a different kind of buzz, f'real.
Beyoncé, "Pretty Hurts"
So, I haven't spent enough time with Beyoncé's album, which was only "surprise"-released just this last week, to know whether or not I can recommend the whole album just yet... but I can reccomend, without any hesitation whatsoever, her single "Pretty Hurts." Beyoncé, perhaps the prettiest human alive, has clearly disavowed the merits of that particular quality of hers on this album and, what is more and better, has also distinguished herself as the closest anything pop music has ever produced to a bona fide feminist. Who runs the world? Queen Bey,
Katy Perry, "Roar"
I still can't decide what I really think about Katy Perry on the whole, but daaaa-yuumn can she produce some catchy hooks. Her song that, despite myself, I could not get out of my head this year was "Roar," the chart-topping hit off her album PRISM. I'll admit that this has been a tough year for me, and so I was particularly vulnerable to the draw of empowering anthems like Perry's "Roar." C'mon though, you gotta admit it, sometimes we all just need to proclaim that we are champions, and you're gonna hear us roar.
Daft Punk, "Get Lucky"
This couldn't even count as a 2013 "best of" 2013 list, really, without Daft Punk's "Get Lucky." I, however, have a personal story about this one. This summer, I was filming a documentary about Memphis musicians, which required me to spend roughly 12hrs a day/night on Beale Street. Almost every single day when I left my apartment to go down to Beale, and every single night when I left Beale, I kid you not, the moment I got into my car and turned the key, Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" was on the radio. So, as fun and carefree as the song is, it will forever remind me of the long, hard days and nights of documentary filming that I endured (and, tbh, enjoyed) this summer. And. by virtue of that, it will forever remind me of the summer of 2013:
Lady Gaga, "Applause"
After three years of humming and hawing about it, I'm now ready to say for the record that I think Lady Gaga is a genius. Her newest album, ARTPOP, is not her best in my view, but that's a far shot from a bad review. Lady Gaga is nothing short of a meta-pop artist, and "Applause" is, above all, evidence of her meta-pop-consciousness.
The first time I heard this song, I could not help but think that it reminded me of the first time I heard Johnny Cash's version of "Hurt"... by which I mean, I thought to myself: "I know when you sang this you didn't mean it." There's a part of me that knows that Lady Gaga really does live for the applause, but hardly (I hope) in the way that this song communicates. Rather, I suspect she lives more for the anti-applause, whatever that may be:
Pitbull, "Everybody F*cks"
It's only been in the last few years that I've really found myself moved by what generically falls under the genre of "house" music. I spent more than my share of nights in dance clubs in my 20's, but I've for the most part steered clear of them since. (And, fwiw, I'm inclined to think that kids in their 20's do as well.) Whatevs. I ain't too old to push back the furniture and crank up a track like this at home when I've got enough party people in the house. There are a lot of "f*ck it, it feels right" songs out there, I know, but this is the best one of 2013. Buh-leeee-dat.
Kanye West, "Blood On the Leaves"
In my experience, anyway, there are people who like Kanye West and people who don't (understand him). On whatever side of that fence you find yourself, you've got to appreciate this bizarro historical mash-up of Kanye's version of (what Frantz Fanon would call) l'expérience vécu du Noir and Nina Simone's "Strange Fruit." This song is such a strange fruit itself, the product of a tree deeply rooted in the long history of African-American hope and desperation and cultural schizophrenia. I can't put into words, exactly, why I continue to believe that Kanye is a genius, but it's at least in part due to his absolutely balls-to-the-wall, uninhibited, uncensored and unrestrained parrhesia, evidenced in no small part in this song. I'm still acclimating myself to the rest of the Yeezus album, and I can't at the moment recommend the whole, but this is a track that easily made it to the top of y 2013 list:
Miley Cyrus, "We Can't Stop"
Yeah, I know, Miley Cyrus was the pop-culture train-wreck of 2013. Whatever you may have thought of her VMA performance-- or, what was the faaaar more bizarre, disturbing, and crying-cat accompanied AMA perforamance-- she nevertheless still put out at least a couple of seriously respectable pop songs this year. For purely ideological reasons, I'm choosing her single "We Can't Stop" over the rest of her songs, partly because it's the most redeeming of hers, but mostly because it's my party and I can say what I want.
So, that's it for my picks for 2013. Friends of mine will notice, I'm sure, that I didn't list any country or roots albums/songs this time around, but I won't make any apologies. These were the tracks that kept Dr. J moving and shaking this year, for better or worse. As always, though, please let me know what I missed in the comment section below.
Next up: 2013 Year in Politics