Year-end wrap up: Commentary of 2013 in music

Was 2013 a crazier year than ever before, or am I just spending too much time on the Internet? Just as in pretty much any other year, the most popular music of 2013 was rarely taken lightly, with nary a day passing in which something music related _㐠Miley’s twerking, Lorde’s success or Justin Bieber’s tomfoolery _㐠went undiscussed with great vigor. Across the musical spectrum, though, we saw bands rise and fall, fads come and go, and songs pass in and out of memory. Some of it will be with us far into 2014 and beyond, however. Here are my picks for the most dope and dubious pieces of the musical zeitgeist this year.

Best song: Disclosure – “Latch”

It was a year of runaway, or at least surprising, success stories, with groups like Alt-J, Icona Pop, Lorde and, to a certain extent, Haim taking over the charts seemingly out of nowhere. But few can match the firestorm that seemed to ignite over Disclosure’s brilliant debut album titled “Settle,” and “Latch” is undoubtedly the single that jump started it. Has British electronica had this much popularity in the U.S. since the halcyon days of The Prodigy et al.? I guess we inevitably just end up copying whatever they do anyway (case in point: Brostep). But if someone can try to emulate Disclosure’s knack for soulful, slow-fuse 2-step, as well as tour here often, I would be the last one to cry plagiarism.

Best Album: Chance the Rapper – “Acid Rap”

The final track of “Acid Rap” includes a recording of Chance, a 19-year-old Chicago native, on the phone with his father. From what can be discerned, he is simply calling to thank his dad for getting him a laptop, and, Chance Sr. ostensibly unaware of his being recorded, launches into an overwhelming profession of gratitude.

“You know Chance, let me tell you something,” he says. “I could never be more proud of anything in my life … than I am of you and what you’ve done. Chance, you are one of the most remarkable and wondrous things, so you don’t have to tell me thank you for anything.”

Chance sounds almost audibly choked up on the other end. It is one of the most heartwarming 50 seconds of audio I have ever heard, and its inclusion on the album, as the final track no less, solidifies the fact that Chance the Rapper might be the best thing that has happened to hip-hop in a while, let alone this year. Through his music, he presents himself as vulnerable, bombastic, theatrical, human. We need more music like this in hip-hop. Partly so people will see the true artistry inherent in the music, and partly so I don’t have to argue with people about it (why rap is a legitimate art, that is. I could write a book on how to argue about this _㐠perhaps I will).

Best new band/artist: This one is hard.

All the newest good bands I can think of have, as I discovered upon Googling, been around since 2008. I guess I am more behind the times than I originally thought, but I can at least offer up some new favorites I found this year. A lot of mine, coincidence or not, happen to have played at Pitchfork this year, including Mac DeMarco and Toro y Moi. Mount Kimbie also had a solid release this year with “Cold Spring Fault Less Youth,” which boasted another strong newcomer King Krule on one of its tracks. Unknown Mortal Orchestra was another standout for me as well, and I don’t think “Ffunny Ffrends” or “So Good At Being in Trouble” will be getting unstuck from my head anytime soon.

Best not-new band I discovered: James Blake

I feel like I was pretty late boarding the 3:10 to “James Blake Town,” but it’s fair to say I’ve hopped on and am loving most every minute. He’s a stellar performer, as I witnessed just a month ago at The Riv, but the things he does on album are so unique and otherworldly. He is a pop-educated virtuoso that has real potential to push the envelope for electronica and make it into a legitimate art form again. The things he does with his voice and synths recall the early days of modular monstrosities and Cage-like experimenting, and when infused with Blake’s soul sensibilities, it’s irresistible. I hope he keeps getting bigger and keeps advancing musically.

Best show I saw: Flying Lotus at the Metro 5/18

If you aren’t yet privy to the organic synth-hop that Steven Ellison, a.k.a. Flying Lotus, creates, do yourself a favor and buy all of his albums posthaste, or at least go to a show. This tour in particular featured FlyLo performing between two transparent screens on stage, while a pair of video DJs projected sonically triggered visuals, creating a hologram effect. In short, it was f***ing nuts. Brainfeeder labelmate Thundercat opened the show with his unique jazz fusion funk-ified sound, which made things even more awesome. 

Best Collaboration: Kanye West, Bon Iver and Chief Keef – “Hold My Liquor”

When word dropped that “Yeezus” would be released like, three weeks before it actually was released, I was more than excited. When I heard about the possible guests on the album, though, this pairing blew me away. I’m pretty sure I had to read it five times before it actually made sense to me. “Chief Keef? Justin Vernon? On the same song?! Did I slip into a wormhole to a new dimension where all my dreams come true, or is this really happening?” I said to myself. Lo and behold, on June 17, there it was, a track featuring the trio, each crooning in their own special way about something or other (jury’s still out on what the hell Chief Keef is ever actually saying). I really hope Vernon keeps up his affiliation with Keef, though. They complement each other nicely, in the same way an opera singer complements a broken Speak-n-Spell.

Best rap/hip-hop trope:

“Rich Homie” prefix to rapper names. Or making fun of Miley Cyrus. Perhaps the fact that Pharrell was on nearly every hip-hop release this year. Also just about every word that came out of Kanye West’s mouth was headline worthy.

Most Insanely Overrated Song (Please Make It Stop): “Blurred Lines”

Even if I live the rest of my life without hearing that song, the painful memory of that music video will live on forever in my mind. Can Robin Thicke be creepier if he tried? Ask Pharrell, he doesn’t have to try. I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that this awkward, borderline offensive song/video singlehandedly validated every feminist screed written this year. Not to say Mr.Thicke should be seen as a representative of the male gender (you may say I’m a dreamer), but he’s certainly not helping. When will we reach the point where pop and rap music videos are at least not so one-sidedly sexualized? If the girls aren’t gonna wear shirts, you just look like a jerk if you keep yours on, too. Thicke can be forgiven, though, assuming his chest is as punchable as his face.

Most Overhyped Band/Artist I Hope Fades Into Obscurity Immediately: Mumford and Sons

These three words were all anyone had to say to me this year to get me to stop paying attention to them. If I wanted to hear pastoral banjo tunes that hearken back to the romance of the ’60s folk revival, I would listen to something actually made during the ’60s folk revival. Maybe I shouldn’t rag on Mumford quite so much, since this hipster folk rock is a many-headed beast (looking at you, Monsters and Men and The Lumineers), but that doesn’t make it any less boring. I’m about ready for this kind of music to run its course, which it very well may have already.

Most Absurd Music News Headline:

Disregarding all the left-field, totally awesome band reunions that came this year, there was some zany s*** happening in the meantime. You may recall how Daft Punk planned to unveil their first album in years, on a farm in Australia. Or here’s a throwback, remember the “Harlem Shake”? Yeah, me neither, but collectively I don’t think we will forget about all the ridiculous videos it spawned, and the ensuing ironic tragedy that thus befell the track’s creator, Baauer. Talk about loathing the spotlight: this song had so much unnecessary cultural criticism come its way, all for what amounted to one of a thousand meaningless Internet memes produced this year.