What do we know about Elvis Costello, one of my favorite performers for nearly 35 years?
He is not a famous ice skater (that would be Elvis Stojko) nor the King of Rock and Roll (Elvis Presley).
He has recorded more than 20 albums in a wide range of styles.
While primarily known as a songwriter, he is also an amazing vocalist and a pretty fair guitarist.
Over the years EC has recorded albums with The Attractions, The Impostors, and as a solo artist. His latest album, Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs, teams Elvis with well-known hip-hop band The Roots in a potentially radical genre- bending mixture. The resulting songs have a definite Costello flavor, but with a hint of funk that is absent from his catalog. It's a unique blend, shored up by career-best vocals. Check this out, along with a few of my other faves of 2013:
Trans-Continental Hustle by Gogol Bordello
The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You by Neko Case
Fossils by Aoife O'Donovan
Didn't It Rain by Hugh Laurie
Splinter: Songs from a Broken Mind by Gary Numan
The words "classical music" make me cringe. The term comes off as stuffy, and it reeks of dead male composers' works that have been sewn into the background of all the films and television programs I've seen since I was a kid. However, under the right circumstances, I have enjoyed traditional classical music, but only to a point. Let's just say it would be disingenuous for me to claim I've ever fired up Beethoven or Copland on my smartphone or home stereo. Despite my general "meh" attitude to the classical genre, Sarah Neufeld's Hero Brother somehow crept its way into my earbuds this year.
I was previously familiar with Neufeld via her affiliation with Arcade Fire, a band you can find on my "recently played" list. While the Arcade Fire connection compelled me to give Hero Brother a try, it's the album's unique sound engineering that makes the title stand out and kept me coming back. Recorded in parking lots, caves, and other unique locations, the album has a self-contradicting, haunting sound. The recording comes off with the lo-fi feel of older Black Keys albums while retaining clarity present in the production of Arcade Fire's newer works. The end result is a well-polished rough-cut album worthy of a listen by classical music buffs and naysayers alike.
Other Bests of 2013:
Pure Heroine and The Love Club EP by Lorde
The Complete United Artists Solo Singles by George Jones
Monomania by Deerhunter
Twelve Reasons to Die by Ghostface Killah
My appreciation for this album probably has as much to do with timing as it does with overall sound. A couple days ago I came across the NPR staff's 50 favorite albums of 2013 and I decided to do some listening (you'll see more of their picks on my list). My attention was immediately grabbed by the featured track from Laura Mvula's debut album, Sing to the Moon, "Green Garden". Strong vocals, toe-tapping beat, and massive amounts of sound; what more could I ask for? Thankfully the album was on the shelves at the EPL, so I wasted no time in discovering that the rest of the album had more of the same to offer.
If my brain was Pandora, and I clicked the 'Why this track?' feature for the track listing for Sing to the Moon, I think it would tell me the following:
We chose this entire album because you love alternative music with orchestral accompaniment (see Bjork - Homogenic, and Portishead - Roseland NYC Live albums); really enjoy vocalists with a unique sound and deeper register such as Lauryn Hill, Bebel Gilberto, and Carmen McRae; and on a subliminal level you've been craving music that sounds vaguely-Christmassy that isn't Christmas music.OK, that last reason sounds odd, but it's undeniably something that I find amusing about this album. In a way the chimes, bells, and ethereal backup singing in Mvula's tracks evoke the same feeling of wonder and joy that Christmas music can evoke, yet they don't share the same baggage that overplayed seasonal music can carry. All that being said, this album fills a niche left open by my annual boycott of Christmas music stations, and will continue to sound good to me throughout the year.
Other 2013 favorites:
Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails
Event 2 by Deltron 3030
Matangi by M.I.A.
Bosnian Rainbows by Bosnian Rainbows
Mosquito by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The Waiting Room by Lusine
Underneath the Pine by Toro y Moi
Run Fast by The Julie Ruin
Nomad by Bombino
I've been in love with Daft Punk for almost 20 years. In that time they have created a number of songs that to this day still float through my mind on a random basis. Right at this moment, for instance, I'm tapping my toes to "Around the World." This year the electronic duo created a new album, Random Access Memories, which has more of an R&B/pop feel to it. Dedicated Daft Punk fans: do not despair! This actually works out pretty well. They went a little more mainstream and as a result it's more likely you will hear them on the radio, on TV, or out in public. Don't be a music snob. Embrace your new musical brothers and sisters as they get on board the Daft Punk bandwagon. And if their popularity eventually wanes, it'll leave more for you and me.
Because one good thing deserves another, I thought I should mention another great album that "dropped" this year, as the kids say. Capital Cities released In a Tidal Wave of Mystery, and I haven't been able to stop listening to it. The biggest hit so far has definitely been "Safe and Sound," whose lyrics contain the album title. But look past the pop charts and feast your ears on guitar that harkens back to the previously mentioned R&B-style Daft Punk. "Kangaroo Court" is catchy enough to make anyone an instant fan, and keep you moving through a workout or just cooking dinner. My favorite, though, has got to be "Farrah Fawcett Hair" for this lyric alone:
I like it when it rains at night and I'm curled up in bed with a good book.Other CDs I've loved so much I've purchased them (and listened to them nonstop) in 2013:
Spreading Rumours by Grouplove
Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend
The Bones of What You Believe by Chvrches
Days are Gone by Haim
The Speed of Things by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Stay tuned (get it, tuned?) for the best music of 2014, coming to your bandwidth soon!
Be sure to visit A Reading Life for more reviews and news of all things happening at the Everett Public Library.
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