Top Albums of 2013: # 3, 2, 1

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3. Sam Phillips, PUSH ANY BUTTON

In the five years between this and her last proper album, Don’t Do Anything, Phillips instituted a project, The Long Play, which was a series of digital EPs, singles and one LP only available via a subscription. It was a unique forum for her to hash out ideas and experiments, but it came off as a continual work-in-progress. This set of songs, written directly after it, seems more fully formed, perhaps because it appears that Phillips has unabashedly fallen in love with pop music again. I love everything she’s done since she reinvented herself on 2001’s better-with-every-year Fan Dance, but this record also reminds me why I fell in love with her in the first place. Think of it as an older-and-wiser Martinis and Bikinis and marvel at how lithe and youthful she still sounds on gems like “You Know I Won’t” or “When I’m Alone”.

Best tracks: “Can’t See Straight”, “No Time Like Now”, “Things I Shouldn’t Have Told You”, “When I’m Alone”, “You Know I Won’t”

Video for “You Know I Won’t”:

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2. Tegan and Sara, HEARTTHROB

The mere idea that this alt-rock duo would go pop over a decade into their career likely irritated many of their fans—did the Quin sisters really need to make their own Liz Phair? The first thing you notice here is the big, bold, undeniably produced sound, full of synths and other sonics that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Katy Perry record (although knob-twiddler Greg Kurstin of The Bird and The Bee has better taste). Then, you detect the undeniable strength of these songs—catchy but not too obvious, smart but not self-indulgent—and you realize just how much T&G have upped the ante. They’re writing lyrics and melodies of a caliber they weren’t capable of ten years ago and the music’s Technicolor scope perfectly complements their newfound ambition. In other words, Heartthrob consists of ten good-to-great potential singles—what more could one ask of an album?

Best tracks: “Closer”, “Drove Me Wild”, “I Was A Fool”, “I’m Not Your Hero”, “Now I’m All Messed Up”

Video for “I Was A Fool”:

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1. Daft Punk, RANDOM ACCESS MEMORIES

Six weeks after this album’s release, I likened it to one of my all-time favorite records, The Avalanches’ Since I Left You; nearly six months later, although separated by time (13 years) and aesthetics (The Avalanches construct their songs entirely by sampling existing songs, Random Access Memories contains but one sample amongst its 13 tracks), the two records seem like mirror images of each other, both celebrating and interpreting the past but also integrating it within the present. RAM is a music obsessive’s playground, as if the narrator of LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge” finally got his shit together and simply made his masterpiece.

Beyond the deservedly inescapable, retro-disco hit “Get Lucky”, RAM has room for new wave (“Instant Crush”, my favorite single song of the year), piano balladry (“Within”), Steely Dan-like pop (“Fragments of Time”), the autobiographical musings of a techno pioneer (the epic “Giorgio By Moroder”, which sums up all of RAM’s ambitions and intentions in nine minutes) and ‘70s singer/songwriter Paul Williams (the ridiculous, sublime, emotional centerpiece “Touch”). As for the electronically processed robot vocals (the only thing Daft Punk has retained from their earlier records), they’ve never seemed more expressive or effective. Everything old is new again on RAM, where an inspired convergence of the past and the present spark some show of hope for the future.

Best tracks: “Fragments of Time”, “Get Lucky”, “Giorgio By Moroder”, “Give Life Back To Music”, “Instant Crush”, “Touch”

Video for “Instant Crush”:

Mid-Year Roundup

Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories may be my favorite album of 2013 so far, although there are a few other worthy contenders (see below). At best, it reminds me of my favorite album of the ’00s in its expansive scope–the only crucial difference being that instead of sampling the past, it celebrates the past via recreation and (possibly to avoid nostalgia) reinterpretation.

Anyway, last year if you told me my favorite track of the first half of 2013 (above) featured The Strokes’ lead singer, I’d have laughed as hard as if in 2010 you’d have said my favorite track of 2011 was sung by Dan Bejar. Here are some other favorites of 2013 so far (ranked in alphabetical order):

ALBUMS

Fitz and The Tantrums, More Than Just A Dream
Iron and Wine, Ghost On Ghost
Laura Marling, Once I Was An Eagle
Erin McKeown, Manifestra
Alison Moyet, The Minutes
Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob
Frank Turner, Tape Deck Heart
Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires In The City

FILMS

56 Up
Before Midnight
Frances Ha
Ginger and Rosa
The Hunt
Laurence Anyways
Prince Avalanche
Stories We Tell
Twenty Feet From Stardom
Upstream Color