We’re here at last. After three suspenseful, relevant, and very clickable days, we have come to the conclusion of our end of the year feature.
We do it this way because we want to focus on things that inspire us to speak instead of just speaking on fucking everything. And because ranked end of the year lists are weird. Aside from the arbitrariness of some of the higher rankings (can you really argue the difference between a #47 album of the year a #46?) and the obvious click bait tactics, it’s weird because no one feels satisfied with them even behind the scenes. We like to imagine that everyone at Pitchfork sat around their redwood conference table and after much debate, decided to christen Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City the album of the year. We forget (or more accurately, we are conditioned to forget) that there are diverse individuals behind the brand and that it’s entirely possible most of them don’t even like Vampire Weekend that much. It just made #9 to #15 on everyone’s list and that’s as close to consensus as you’re going to get.
Still, they’re fun distractions and amusing exercises. But maybe they just aren’t the important, year-defining bookends we pretend they are.
Enough tooting our own horn. Here’s the last of our end of the year awards, in no particular order. Thanks for reading.
Nothing Was The Same – Drake
TALK ABOUT PROMOTION. From pop up shops to NWTS t-shirts, celebrity endorsements and a handful of leaked tracks, NWTS was easily one of the most anticipated albums of 2013. Coming off the massive success of Take Care, Drake definitely had to prove that he wasn’t just giving us another ‘good’ album.
What we got was a beautifully mastered album with tracks that were not only well produced but overall completely well done. Drake showed us why he is who he is, with incredible lyrical content accompanied by catchy tunes. We see the emotional Drake transition into a rapper of sorts, something his other albums hadn’t done successfully. NWTS shows the talent dimensions of Drake. This may have easily been Drake’s greatest lyrical album to date. The Toronto kid gave us a grown up album, and showed us that’s he’s definitely the one to beat. – Arati Patel
Run The Jewels – Killer Mike & El-P
Individually, I’m okay with El-P and Killer Mike. I get it, it just doesn’t stick in my craw after a couple weeks. Somehow that all changed when they paired up for Run The Jewels, an album that starts in your mind as a “fuck you” to Watch The Throne, but ends up growing into much more. Together, their music is a cohesive and exciting super villain team-up where they win every time. Killer Mike & El-P shoot poodles, go on crazy shroom trips, and rap their asses off like men on a mission. I’m not sure that mission is anything more than proving that they’re a force of nature, but they pass with flying colors as it’s some of the best work either men have done to date. – Justin Pansacola
Bigfoot – Cayucas
While the race was tight for this particular category (see Modern Vampires of the City and Neil Young’s unfinished rock opera, Nessie and Me) Cayucas’ sunny and eager Santa Cruz sound contrasts much of the somberness of the indie-rock scene today. Fun, preppy and well versed, Cayucas seems destined to pull a Vampire Weekend and explode into the mainstream consciousness. (The band was recently featured in a Bose commercial, no doubt sending Yahoo! Answers boards buzzing.) Aside from a sure-fire entry on the Coachella lineup, Cayucas is the band not to pass over once again on your spring 2014 playlists. – Jake Tully
We The Common – Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
If you consider one album and one Netflix original series to be a “big year for stories about women’s prisons,” it’s been a big year for stories about women’s prisons. While Thao & The Get Down Stay Down’s 2013 offering We The Common isn’t solely about the Valley State Prison for Women, it owes at least one song and a general thematic aura to some work Thao did at the facility. The overall album is some top flight alternative folk bolstered by the creative guitar work and Thao’s unique charisma. There’s a lot of stuff here about reshaping and rebooting your uneven life – “breathe the breath of the wanting life, kiss the mouth of the feeling kind,” or “holy roller, roll over me” – little internal pep talks we try to give ourselves in between days. It’s all resonant, aching stuff expressed through Thao’s most poetic writing to date. – Justin Pansacola
Push The Sky Away – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
A catchy hook is the difference between a murder confession and party playlist.
Take Tim Curry’s “Sweet Transvestite,” Tom Waits’ “What’s He Building,” Eric Clapton’s “I Shot the Sheriff” and Rolling Stone’s “Sympathy for the Devil.” First person narration in these hits are wickedly funny. Right? In contrast, tell a tale of chained virgins, dismantled girls, and leashed fetuses without pop-friendly hooks with Nick Cave’s growl and you have a set of campfire stories that will scare the shit out of the grown counselors. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Push the Sky album tells “Water’s Edge” and “Jubilee Street” as nightmarishly, humor-free tone poems. Pay special attention to mesmerizing “We No Who U R”, the opening track, and “We Real Cool” to allow the chills to set in. The post-punk musicians use a chorus of children to terrifying effect.
The listener is reminded one’s vulnerability as a potential victim of violence or worse being the criminal. The desire to behave vengefully, selfishly or greedily is a daily tension because of integrity so I’m reminded of Rodin’s statue of the philosopher. Originally, The Thinker was a miniature seated at a larger piece called the Gates of Hell. Is the unnamed speaker actually the Lord of the Underworld in Push the Sky telling humans there is nothing to forgive so relent? What will happen to us if we set down the sky as the Greek Myth of Atlas is tempted to do? Zeus has delivered a quiver of lightning bolts. You decide. – Renee Marchol
Cerulean Salt – Waxahatchee
“I will grow out of all the empty words I often speak, and you will be depleted but much better off without me.” If you were to imagine what kind of song would have these lyrics, you would not imagine the breezy simplicity of “Swan Dive.” But that’s how it is. Katie Crutchfield put out one of the best-written, emotionally moving albums of 2013 and deserves to be elected into your hall of pain.
I’m tempted to just write all my favorite lines here, as if transcribing lyrics could accurately convey how cutting this album is. Obviously you have to be of a certain temperance to be into it, but if you are, it’s a gold mine. “You can’t hole up a story so heavy we tell it so rarely”; “This place is vile, and I am vile too”; “In this dejection lies a connection, tattoo your vain silence and all my resistance,” Even a normal unassuming line carries with it heavy hearted implications when sung by Waxahatchee: “I wake up early every morning and you sleep for hours after me.” I don’t know how she does it, but she’s one of the best. – Justin Pansacola
The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 – Another Self Portrait (1969 – 1971) – Bob Dylan
The reissue of Dylan’s original 1969 middle finger to record labels and fans alike finds itself getting the Columbia bootleg treatment. Perhaps unorthodox and antithetical Dylan’s original statement, for über-fans and audiophiles alike, the entire reissue is an enormous treat. Critically panned during its original inception, it nonetheless found its fan following throughout the years and remains a heralded Dylan classic by many despite what naysayers nay say. The reissue itself contains 4 discs, the first two comprised of demos from Self Portrait and New Morning, the latter two containing a performance from the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival and a remastered edition of the original album.
Tantalizing, moving, and raw, Another Self Portrait adds depth to the otherwise shallow original, and is yet another satisfying Bootleg entry. Any Dylan bootleg worth its salt had better bring a worthwhile demo to the table, and Volume 10’s is undoubtedly “When I Paint My Masterpiece”, a version so gut-wrenchingly sincere it could make the entirety worthwhile were it not also genuinely strong on its own. – Jake Tully