Tom’s Top 5’s: Albums of 2013

And so, 48 days and 240 albums later, we come to the last of my Top 5 Albums of [xxxx] (until my inevitable Top 5/10 of 2014, that is). This list took all of five minutes to put together, mostly because I’d already made it two months ago when I ranked my Top 10 Albums of 2013. I’d thought that with two months of distance and repeated listens, my rankings might’ve changed slightly, but I’m actually perfectly happy with the list as it stood on January 8. So I won’t say too much about it except to mention that I’ve linked to my full reviews of each of these albums, in case something strikes your fancy and you want to read/hear more.

Instead, I’ll offer a few reflections on this whole silly endeavor…

What was the point? I don’t know that there ever was one, except that, like Jack Black and John Cusack from High Fidelity, I derive some perverse pleasure from distilling “objective” lists out of something as patently subjective as music taste. Moreover, there’s something satisfying about setting yourself a project, however fatuous, and seeing it through to its conclusion.

In the end, I have three takeaways from making all these dopey lists:

  1. How many times have you heard a variation on the following: “I don’t understand this modern crap. Music was at its best in the 1960s/1970s/1980s/whatever decade I grew up in.” Now, let it be known, I definitely believe in a Golden Age of Rock & Roll (1967-1975). But this exercise has reiterated for me the fact that, no matter your tastes, there is always good music out there, if you know where to look for it and are open to trying new things.
  2. As much music as I may listen to and as wide-ranging as my tastes may be—keeping in mind that I listened to no fewer than 40 new albums 1965-2013 in the last two months, and that for every album that featured on these lists, 5 got left out—I’ve heard only the minutest fraction of everything that’s out there. But hand-in-hand with that humbling realization comes the excitement of knowing how much I have yet to discover, leading me to my third takeaway…
  3. …namely, my pages-long laundry list of dozens upon dozens of great albums I need/get to listen to now, culled from dozens of blog comments and hundreds of Facebook posts as family, friends, acquaintances, and total strangers have expressed their appreciation of, or bewilderment at, my selections and offered up their own selections.

Because at the end of the day, it’s all about music, its power to move us and to bring us together. It’s about hearing with fresh ears that album you thought you knew so well, taking a friend’s suggestion and discovering a new favorite, digging up a lost gem, or finally experiencing that old standby you’d heard so much about. It’s the combative fun of sparring with a friend over the relative merits of prog vs. punk, the bemused smile at people’s inexplicable love of Nirvana or Radiohead (while they smile bemusedly back at your inexplicable love of Paul McCartney), the thrill of getting to say, “Oh yeah, I love that record! Good call!”

Small pleasures, sure; but what’s life without the small pleasures?

5. FANFARE (Jonathan Wilson)

Fanfare

When “Fanfare” bursts forth with big, echoing drums, symphonic strings, and flute accents, it might have you wondering whether you accidentally queued up a different Wilson, but it’s far from the last time you’ll find yourself hearing echoes of rock’s Golden Era. It’s one thing to write a song that could’ve appeared on Déjà Vu; it’s another to get Crosby & Nash to sing it with you.

4. IDIOTS (The Electric Soft Parade)

IDIOTS

Although they echo everything from the Beach Boys to Badfinger, from 10cc to Teenage Fanclub, Alex and Thomas White rarely sound exactly like anyone except themselves, unless it’s a more sophisticated version of Fountains of Wayne. They have the same encyclopedic knowledge of classic sounds and unparalleled ear for a hook, with the added bonus of being able to write a song that isn’t a joke for once.

3. CHARGE (David Ford)

Charge

At the risk of sounding like a hipster, you’ve probably never heard of British singer-songwriter David Ford. But once you’ve heard the positively galvanic “Every Time,” even Springsteen comparisons aren’t hyperbolic; from his ragged-but-right voice to his heady brew of Americana influences to the passion with which he invests every word he sings, Mr. Ford can play ball with the Boss himself.

2. NEW (Paul McCartney)

NEW

Despite the title, there are few surprises here: “Queenie Eye” is a piano stomper straight off the White Album, “New” could’ve scaled the charts in ’67, and “Early Days” fits right in on Flaming Pie. But every song is fully realized, brimming with inventive arrangements, impeccable harmonies (even for Paul), and atmospheric variation. Nope, no surprises; just rock’s greatest living songwriter doing what he does best

1. RANDOM ACCESS MEMORIES (Daft Punk)

Random Access Memories

“Let the music of your life give life back to music.” With these words, Daft Punk throw down the artistic and spiritual gauntlet. This isn’t just about getting lucky at the clubs; it’s about the heart and soul of modern music. The stakes are high, and the French duo are prepared to unleash their full talents—and a host of all-star collaborators—to win. The result is their gone-for-broke masterwork, a towering edifice that builds on a foundation of disco-inflected French house with everything from jazz fusion and simmering R&B to indie rock and moody 80s pop to neo-Wagnerian bombast and sci-fi prog rock. Through it all, the common denominators are DP’s consummate craftsmanship and the deep humanity of these digital love songs. It’s not just the best album of 2013; it’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard.

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