Ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time once again. Time to look back upon the past year and sort the wheat from the chaff. Tens of thousands of albums are released every year, across dozens of disparate and rapidly-disintegrating genres. Some are truly terrible. Most are mediocre. But fear not, for a few albums stand out as being exceptional every year. It was true in 1966, and 1977, and even 1988, and the tradition continues to this day.
I’m not a professional music critic. I don’t get dozens of free CDs and LPs piled on my desk each week, awaiting my judgment. But I do watch the ‘tastemaker’ blogs, listen keenly to satellite and internet radio, and even pay attention during films and TV programs to see what sort of new music is circling the zeitgeist. There is a lot of chaff, but once in awhile I come across a kernel of glorious red spring wheat that makes the search entirely worth the effort. Over the next ten days, I would like to feature the ten new albums that I picked up this year and particularly enjoyed.
A few ground rules before we begin. Since I’m a bit of a Luddite, we will limit the field to albums (defined here as at least 40 minutes of new music, collected and issued as one entity). No EPs or singles. And new music only – re-releases, live albums, and greatest hits collections don’t count. I happen to think that one of the most asinine things to happen this year was Led Zeppelin’s Grammy nomination for Celebration Day. How a live performance from 2007, featuring songs written in the 1970s, can be nominated for Best Rock Album in 2014 is beyond me. It smacks of the way the Grammy nomination committee tried to retroactively celebrate Eric Clapton by backing up the awards truck to his door for 1992’s Unplugged album. Fine recordings to be sure, but in retrospect it’s sort of silly to shower them with praise. ‘Best new music’ accolades should be reserved for the best new music.
And sorry to disappoint you if you’re a fan of, say, acid house, experimental trip-hop or modal jazz. My listening tastes are pretty wide but they aren’t infinite. When people ask me what kind of music I listen to, I typically respond with some variation on “mainstream indie”. Artists that anyone with an appreciation for alternative media are probably familiar with (Wilco, The New Pornographers, Radiohead, etc.), but not likely to be playing on Top 40 radio fifteen times a day. Once in awhile, a semi-obscure artist will break through with an international hit record, as we are likely to see over the next ten days. But most of my musical tastes are pitched a little further afield. What intrigues me about music is melody, rhythm, and that special “X” factor – something that makes the music unique and interesting. Whenever I heard one or two of those elements, my ears start to tingle. When I hear all three simultaneously, I stand and cheer.
Check back between now and New Year’s Day to see which ten albums caused the Craven Hermit to stand and cheer in 2013.