2013 might go down as the year synthpop absolutely dominated my music life.
Maybe that’s because I’m 42 years old.
I grew up listening to bands like Duran Duran, Human League, ABC, OMD and the Thompson Twins. And synthpop takes me back to those happy days, only this music is new. Don’t get me wrong: I love the 80s and 80s music. But sometimes I wish 80s music would just go away. I’ll be out at a club or restaurant somewhere and hear some 80s song I’ve heard a million times, like The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” or The Smith’s “How Soon Is Now?” and I’ll twitch, twitch because those songs have been run into the ground. How can I be nostalgic for something that never really went away? Synthpop bridges the gap: new music that sounds like something from 1982.
On the other hand, a lot of new music these days is… meh. Except for a brief period when I was a teen, screaming guitars have never really been my thing, and these days loud guitars just give me a headache. Loud guitars and cheap beer is a guaranteed headache.
What’s worse, as I approach middle age, I just don’t give a damn to hear rich 19 year-olds tell me how bad life is. Oh no, someone broke your heart, Taylor Swift? Cry me a river! Get in your private jet, fly to Rome and drown yourself in gelato for all I care. Love sucks? No shit. Welcome to an exclusive club called “The Human Race”. We’ve all been dumped before; if you feel the need to talk about it, there’s a group that meets at the Y on Tuesday evenings – bring cookies. Miley Cyrus? One Direction? Blech. People listen to this manufactured, over-produced crap? Really? And by “over-produced” I mean “Martin Hannett is rolling over in his grave”. Arctic Monkeys? The Strokes? Better, but too damn loud. The Lumineers? Arcade Fire? Mumford & Sons? Do people actually listen to these bands when not trying to get a girl in a sack? The 1975? Are these guys old enough to get into a R-rated movie by themselves? Justin Timberlake? You mean the guy who gets to sleep next to Jessica Biel on a bed stuffed with $100 bills? Yeah, that’s relevant to my life!
I don’t know. I mean, I just feel weird. I’m obviously “too old” for MTV and Capitol Records to give a damn about me, and I’m fine with that. Relieved, actually. But I also feel waaaaayy too young to be joining the Michael Bublé fan club. I’m not ready to shop for records at Cracker Barrel, thank you very much. So synthpop is where I find myself at the moment.
Below are my Top 10 Albums for 2013. Remember, this list is about complete albums, not albums with just one or two tracks I really liked. More on the individual tracks I liked in a “Music By The Numbers” follow-up post, scheduled for 12/16.
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#10: Au Revoir Simone – Move In Spectrums
Brooklyn-based Au Revoir Simone formed in 2003 and have put our four studio albums, including one of my faves from 2009, Still Night, Still Light. London’s The Times newspaper called their music “a collision between The Waitresses, Stereolab and Kings of Convenience”, while one of their biggest fans, director David Lynch, called their music “innocent, hip and new”. This album certainly is new. While their previous albums were an unconventional take on conventional pop music, this album is… lighter, airier and freer than any of their previous efforts. About halfway through the album, the music seems to lose structure completely. And that’s not entirely a good thing. On the one hand, if you like experimental music, it’s right up your alley. If you don’t, you’ll be likely to skip the rest of the album, starting at about track 6. It’s still a good effort, though. Even though it goes off the rails, it’s good to experiment. But maybe they’re just not the band to do it.
#9: Emilíana Torrini – Tookah
Of course I was excited when I heard that Emilíana Torrini was releasing her first new album since 2008’s Me and Armini. And when I heard the first single off the album, “Speed of Dark”, I became SUPER EXCITED… because it reminded of her 1999 album Love in the Time of Science. If you know me, you know that Science is one of my all-time favorite albums. Produced by Roland Orzabal of Tears For Fears, Science was one of the best electronic albums, well.. ever. But then some bad things happened in Torrini’s life, and 2005’s Fisherman’s Woman was a mostly acoustic mopefest. It was still good, mind you. ANY Emilíana Torrini is a good thing. But I missed, so missed, the electronic Emilíana. The aforementioned Me and Armini was kind of more of the same: good, but not the artist I loved so much. It’s almost like… imagine if Human League decided to do slow, acoustic versions of their songs all the time. Maybe it would be good, or maybe it wouldn’t. But it’s not the sound you fell in love with. And sadly, Tookah is mostly more of the same, plodding Torrini we’ve come to know over the past few years. “Speed of Dark” is the only really “electronic” song on the album, except for perhaps the title track. The bulk of the album – “Caterpillar”, “Autumn Sun”, “Home”, “Elizabet” – is the same downtempo stuff she’s been doing for years. Which is fine. But not what I wanted. Having said that, it’s still good, though.
#8: Carla Bruni – Little French Songs
Confession Time: I’ve fallen in love with songs sung (in French) by French girls. But it’s more specific than that. Oddly, the singers must be French; French Canadians, Belgians and Swiss need not apply (which is odd, I know, since Bruni was born in Italy). And the music must be mostly voice and guitar, with perhaps a few violins or accordions thrown in from time to time. This album is the perfect example of what I’m looking for. I first fell for Bruni’s music with “Quelqu’un m’a dit” from the album of the same name, as used in Hans Canosa’s 2005 film Conversations with Other Women. And this album is almost as good. maybe even better. Mostly written by Bruni herself, the album is light and breezy. If you speak French, you might find that the music is actually quite clever at times. For the rest of us, don’t fear: it’s lovely. In fact, the music on this disc is exactly what it says on the tin: “Little French Songs”. And that’s a good thing!
Continue reading “My Top Albums of 2013”