7/7 Doug Nunnally

melissa koch

While I’ve spent hours agonizing over my Top Songs & Albums Of 2013 lists, I’d rather list out the ten things in music this year that really stuck with me and made 2013 one of my favorite years in music.

10. Comedy Music

Why is it that you can tell people Airplane! or Bridesmaids are some of the best movies and you’ll get a high five, but mention a Lonely Island record as one of the year’s best and people judge you like you made a racist joke? Seriously, why? As pop music shows, music doesn’t always have to be deep and introspective. It doesn’t always have to hit you right in the feels. If music can make you want to bawl your eyes out or dance till your feet ache, then why can’t it make you laugh? I’m dead serious when I say “The Fox” is one of the best songs of 2013. Not just an approximation, but a song that would seriously land in the top twenty-five of the year. While The Lonely Island’s third album this year was not in the same ballpark as their first two, “YOLO” was another gem that would land anywhere in a top fifty and “You’ve Got The Look” has a lot to love about it (I’d love to hear more Hugh Jackman hooks).

The thing about this music that makes it worthwhile is that the music is actually good in it. If you insert some Arcade Fire-lyrics into the music that these “joke” groups have come up with, you’d have Rolling Stone saying it’s the most refreshing track in twenty years. But nobody wants to admit that Andy Samberg or a dude screaming “fraka-kaka-kaka-kaka-kow” wrote better melodies and hooks than most bands on Pitchfork’s Best Of 2013 list. The lyrics being ridiculous is beside the point. Let’s not forget that “I Am The Walrus” is literally just phrases that John Lennon wrote down to mess with people. I’m not saying that any of these comedy songs from this year come close to that, but it just goes to show you that the lyrical content of the song doesn’t necessarily make or break a song. I feel like Professor Farnsworth almost when Robin Thicke can be lauded for the misogyny of “Blurred Lines” and Ylvis gets an eye roll for making people laugh.

9. The Mowgli’s - Waiting For The Dawn

I am beyond shocked that this eight piece outfit from California didn’t get more love for their major label debut record. One listen from anyone and I guarantee you that they’ll be trying to match the harmonies and shake something to the rhythm. I challenge anyone to listen to “San Francisco” and not enjoy it. It's not all youthful playfulness like that and on “Hi, Hey There, Hello.” “See I’m Alive” shows a more serious side to the band that will nearly haunt you, which makes Mowgli’s just as comfortable with catchy melodies as serious arrangements.

8. The 1975 - The 1975

The hype for this album almost made me not listen to it. There’s only so many times you can hear people on Twitter CAPS LOCKING about how great something is and my limit had been reached far before this album dropped. I hate to justify caps locking, but this album was definitely, definitely worth the hype. Every song is different and there is so much going on musically in this album (and in each song) that it’s just nuts. It's how creative each member of the band gets in each song that takes me by surprise each listen. Whether it’s a unique drum hit in contrast to a weird bass line or the way the guitar goes from show-off to minimalist, The 1975 are clearly aiming to make every last song unique. There are plenty of memorable lyrics and insane guitar melodies to keep you coming back for more, but for me, nothing can top “Robbers,” a song so grandiose that it’s almost an anomaly on this album. It’s restrained, it’s vulnerable, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking. The 1975 is one of the best new bands to come out in a long, long time and with songs like “Talk!, Sex,” and, of course, “Robbers,” they have enough musical creativity to keep them going for years.

7. Drake - “Hold On, We're Going Home

I really dislike Drake. Seriously. I could go into detail about the things that drive me nuts about him (and I did in my first draft), but that would really bring down the praise I’m about to give him for one of the best R&B songs ever written. Hell, it might be one of the best love songs ever written. For such a great song, the charm here is really just how simple it is. There’s the cyclical drum beat that's probably in 100 rap songs, but never had a chance to shine until here. The vocal “oohs” and “aahs” work on so many levels from hauntingly charming to subtly showing that feeling of losing your breath & words when you see “the one.” The synth is just absolutely perfect here. It doesn’t overshadow anything at all, but just enhances the overall mood of the song, a feat synthesizers today should be used more for instead of cool, loud riffs. Of course, none of this comes close to Drake crooning that first verse that's so immense it just had to be repeated again. You can't beat telling someone you want their “high love and emotion endlessly,” so why try? I'd love to say more, but that’s really it about the song. It’s just so simple, so pure. You could write a dissertation on everything this song does perfectly, but with a song this sparse, all you need to do is really feel it, really experience it. Maybe I’m just a romantic, but I don’t think there will ever be a day where I just don't get truly steamrolled by Drake opening the song up with “I’ve got my eye on you.” Romantic or not, we’ve all felt this way at some point and Drake captured it so perfectly that no one else should even try to anymore.

6. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires Of The City

I think the past fifteen years has been marked by a bunch of bands who had amazingly strong debuts and were never able to match them on subsequent albums. MGMT is perhaps one of the biggest offenders. In their second and third albums, they never even got close to how good 2007’s Oracular Spectacular was. On the other hand though, we have Vampire Weekend who not only improves each album, but vastly improves. Their 2008 self-titled is great, but 2010’s Contra was even better. With Modern Vampires Of The City, Vampire Weekend without a doubt delivers their best work, but also proves that they are truly part of rock music’s elite. You could argue they have been since they debuted, but this album absolutely solidified it. The lyrics, the melodies, the arrangements; they’re all fantastic, but it's probably the lyrical and musical maturity that the band shows that really sets them in that upper echelon of music today. God knows how they top this one.

5. Concerts

I didn’t go to as many concerts in 2013 as I did in 2012, but it was still an amazing year for concerts. Friday Cheers, as always, had an amazing line-up this year with The Head And The Heart being the highlight. I got to witness the beginning of Fall Line Fest at The Camel with James Wallace, San Fermin, The Southern Belles, and Kopecky Family Band (who absolutely crushed it in every single way). Jimmy Eat World proved to me again why they're so great and seeing Ha Ha Tonka for the fourth time just made me wonder even more how this band isn't on any radar. Three Carbon Leaf shows at three different venues with each one being completely different and absolutely incredible. They are definitely Richmond’s most criminally underrated outfit that always deliver live. With their two new albums out this year, their set just got even more diverse and spectacular each show. I finally got to see The Shins and The Fratellis this year and each band easily surpassed my high expectations. The Joy Formidable showed me that rock music still has a future and The Vaccines showed me that future is at its best when it sounds like it came from a junky garage. Atlas Genius, Fitz & The Tantrums, The Neighbourhood, and Capital Cities are some more.

In the end though, my favorite concerts this year were from Local Natives and Walk The Moon. Local Natives at The National in June was a total shock to me considering the laid-back feel of Hummingbird, which was a stark contrast to the energy of Gorilla Manor. “Sun Hands” and “You & I” really have to be seen live to appreciate in all their glory. My appreciation of Hummingbird definitely shot up after seeing them live. I saw Walk The Moon in February & September and really couldn’t tell you which was better, but I can definitely tell you that Walk The Moon puts on an truly unforgettable show. It might be unforgettable since my wife & I signed off on our house while we were at Walk The Moon, but that band's performance skill is just on a completely different level than most in music today.

4. Phoenix - "Entertainment"

I loved 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix so much that it pains me to say that this year’s Bankrupt! was a very hit and miss record. I’d say I set the bar too high for them, but judging by how many end of the year lists they are absent from, I don’t think I’m alone. The record does have some great songs like “S.O.S In Bel Air” and “Trying To Be Cool,” but nothing on this record and even Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix comes close to “Entertainment.” So many things are going on here that it’s almost hard to believe the introspection coming through the vocals. It opens with an intro akin to “Hong Kong Garden” that almost alludes to their off-kilter, but auspicious beginnings not unlike Siouxsie And The Banshees themselves. From there, the rollercoaster of music in this song perfectly conveys the weariness the band must feel after their 2009 album’s success. The overall message of the song to me here is a high euphoria followed by crippling weariness and nothing conveys it better than the central line of the whole song. “I'd rather be alone” closes the first chorus, but it’s not until the end of the song where the lyric is placed in near isolation itself that the full meaning of it becomes apparent. From the moment I first heard this song, I knew this was the song to define Phoenix. Even if the song is a plea to not hold the band on any pedestal, it's clearly the band's magnum opus and definitely something that makes them deserving of that pedestal.

3. Pixies Comeback

For music lovers, the most polarizing thing of the year was not Miley Cyrus going off the deep-end, but was instead Pixies not only going forward without Kim Deal, but releasing new music very quickly after the fact. While their first single “Bagboy” got some praise, it would seem most of that was almost a courtesy to the band who pioneered alternative rock and without whom Nirvana might not have made it big. When EP1 dropped in September though, the criticism couldn’t be louder. I can see where the criticism is coming from, but I completely and wholeheartedly disagree with it. “Andro Queen, Another Toe In The Ocean, Indie Cindy, What Goes Boom,” and even “Bagboy” are all songs that I could play on repeat for hours on end. Well, not so much as “could play for hours on end,” but “have so before” and “will definitely again.” Maybe not so much “will definitely again” as “am currently” either.

It’s a different Pixies sound, but it’s also 2013, people. Sure, places were quick to lavish praise on My Bloody Valentine’s mbv and while it’s a great companion piece to 1991’s Loveless, don’t you want something different after twenty years? To me, the sound hasn’t changed that much, outside of “Andro Queen” and “Another Toe In The Ocean.” "What Goes Boom" could definitely fit stylistically into any place on Doolittle. “Indie Cindy” and “Bagboy?” Not as far off from the original Pixies sound as you think. I know it’s the most hated song in their catalogue now, but I think ”Another Toe In The Ocean” is easily one of their best songs to date. Yes, it’s a straight modern rock song, but with Frank Black’s arrangement & lyrics and Joey Santiago's guitar, you're never going to fit into that mold perfectly. Not just an amazing song, it's almost the perfect comeback song too with the best line of the song summing up exactly where the Pixies stand in 2013. “No more waiting for a new day, you’ve got to swim sometimes.” I can't even read the lyric without screaming it in my head like Frank Black does in the lead up to the best bridge of 2013. I hope to death fans who expect a revolutionary sound in 1988 to be relevant in 2013 don’t stop the band from releasing more music. More songs like “Andro Queen” and “Another Toe In The Ocean” and I’ll call Pixies the best band of the 2010s.

2. Really Making A Best Of Year List

Like any obsessed music fan, I have lists somewhere of each year's top records, but each year, there are tons of stuff I didn’t listen to for whatever reason. Might not seem like a big deal, but when publications’ end of the year lists came out and I haven’t listened to more than half the list, it always deflated me a little bit. Almost like asking yourself, “If this is the best, what the hell did you listen to this year?”  2013 was a big year of change for me personally & professionally and one of the biggest things I did was challenge myself to really listen to music. Unlike other challenges, goals, and ultimatums that never stick (coughexercisecough), this one did and then some. I listened to 250 records this year. It wasn’t always easy, I always felt “behind,” and I definitely went into panic mode in December, but I did it.

While it may seem just a tad ridiculous (and borderline overkill), the result was exactly what I’d been looking for all along: a deeper appreciation of music. Yes, listening to crappy punk and indie records made me appreciate the better efforts from those genres more, but it goes far beyond that. Listening to different genres of music, even ones I don’t like, really opened up a new level of music to me. While I definitely wasn't enamored with the bigger ambient releases of the year, listening to them made me appreciate facets of other records, particularly the sequencing in Deafheaven’s Sunbather, ten times over. Even more so, I’ve come to respect music a lot more. In the past, I’d throw Kanye West under the bus for anything, but with Yeezus, I find myself knowing I don't particularly like it, but holding it in a higher regard than I would otherwise. It's not going to crack my top 50 by any means, but I’m not going to sit here and unabashedly slam it because it doesn't deserve it. Listening to 250 albums this year made everything about this year in music mean that much more to me and that’s exactly what I wanted. I leave this year completely satisfied and then some with 2013 in music knowing that every piece of music had something to offer in a positive way.

Fun fact, I’m already behind on 2014 music.

1. The Last Royals - Twistification

Best album of 2013.

It was a great year for debut records. So great that six of my personal top ten albums of the year were from first-timers, but this was by far the best debut and the best regular album 2013 had to offer. I first heard the band two and a half years ago on a plane on the way to my honeymoon. The in-flight satellite radio had their song “Crystal Vases” playing and I was just enamored with it. Such a great quirky song with lyrics that were as playful as they were stinging. Their debut album released in January was ten times better than I could have imagined and might actually be the best representation of indie rock that there has ever been in an album form. Everything works on this record, every last bit. You want a blazin’ guitar? You got it on “Only The Brave.” You want love song? Turn on “All Over Again.” Stripped down acoustic? “I Hate California.” Quirky ditty you're only going to find in indie rock? “Good Day Radio.”

The best part about this album is that its finest songs are ones you just will not get out of your head. “Crystal Vases” is infectiously catchy with a rhythm and cadence that’s hard to forget. “Friday Night” and “Barefoot Winter Waltz” bookend the album and while they are both remarkable compositions, it’s their stark contrast that's perfect. “Friday Night” is the perfect new romance song, a feeling so similar about not wanting to lose what you’ve just found and a call to throw all away all your BS. “Barefoot Winter Waltz” falls near the end of romance, an almost compassionate plea for love to keep going and remember how it grew. The music compliments each song beautifully but here, “Friday Night” really stands tall as the best song here and the best song of 2013. The synth hook, the vocal rhythm, that driving drum, and, of course, the final mantra that’s so amazing it only grows the three times its repeated until a swell of emotions brings it to a close. Starting with a song like this, you're clearly aiming for the fences and by the end of the album, you know that you've hit the ball further than anyone else.

Doug Nunnally » Richmond, VA » Desk Jockey / Writer
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