Reviews by Mike Hotter
While there were no new albums I felt very passionate about this year (besides the Dylan reissue), here are some that I admired and listened to quite a bit – in alphabetical order:
Neko Case’s The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You: Gorgeous voice delivering gorgeous tunes about unsettling matters.
Bob Dylan’s Another Self Portrait (1969-1971): A couple of self-professed Dylan fans I know scoffed when I told them how much I loved this two-disc set – such is the stigma attached to anything having to do with this era. But if you sit down with this objectively, I promise that your conception of Dylan will be enlivened, enriched and rejuvenated. Filled with some of his finest singing ever captured on tape, you also hear a person deeply in love with song. And the demo version of “When I Paint My Masterpiece” that closes, with its slightly different lyrics, is so much better than the one we are familiar with. My favorite release of 2013.
The Knife’s Shaking the Habitual: As forbidding as an electronica version of “Finnegan’s Wake,” this 96-minute-long behemoth may not be really “enjoyable” at some points, but it seems important in an almost historical way – the first bonafide hybrid human-computer classic, as chilling as it sounds.
Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s What the Brothers Sang: In a year that saw the Everly Brothers suddenly become an alt-Americana touchstone alongside Gram Parsons and Lee Hazlewood, this collaboration of close friends is a great-sounding collection of tunes, and more rewarding than Bonnie Billy’s self-titled album of originals that also came out this year.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s II: There are any number of recording artists out there creating vintage-sounding music that wouldn’t have been out of place if it came out in the ’70s or ’90s (the ’80s were 75% ruined by the drums sounds). This scratched my itch to hear something new that sounds old, in the Tame Impala/Dungen mold (with more pop hooks).
Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City: In his A+ review, Robert Christgau compared this album to Sgt Pepper’s, and maybe this album will stand as the best of what mainstream pop-rock had to offer in 2013 much as the Lonely Hearts Club Band got stuck with defining 1967. What we appreciate in both albums are the melodies and textures. Nothing here as epic as “A Day in the Life,” I don’t think, but still a fine record to sing along to.
Laura Veirs’ Warp and Weft: I didn’t think there was much life left in what used to be called alt-country, but Laura Veirs delivers some of the finest work in that field that I’ve heard in a decade. Great singing, evocative lyrics and melodies, tasteful musical backing and tasty electric guitar – it’s all here. But there’s an undefinable gravitas and grandeur that makes this a defining work that transcends genre.
Kurt Vile’s Wakin’ On a Pretty Daze: This longtime fan was pretty underwhelmed by this double album at first (see my Metroland review from back in May). But revisiting it during the busy holiday season at the end of the year, I now appreciate the richness of its sound, its sense of friendly lethargy (like Vile, I find being a parent to little ones has its hallucinogenic qualities) and even the repetition of the tunes feels welcome. I still think Vile has come up with better songs than the ones here, and will probably do better, but I learned to appreciate this album for what it is, not for what I wanted it to be.
Yo La Tengo’s Fade: They still find ways to keep it fresh – and their meditations on love and mortality make things more bracing and touching then they have been in years. “Ohm” is one of the best songs of 2012-2013.
Mike Hotter is an occasional Nippertown contributor and a member of the elusive band Swamp Baby, who are scheduled to re-surface in the Nippertown spotlight for an all-too rare concert at the Steamer No. 10 Theatre in Albany at 8pm on Saturday, March 1, sharing the bill with Ryder & Hazel with the Dust Bowl Faeries.
Got a Best of 2013 list that you’d like to share with Nippertown readers? Best concerts of the year? Best Local 518 music moments of the year? Best plays? Best art gallery exhibits? Best books by local authors? Best whatever? Please keep it local, but send it along to firstname.lastname@example.org