When it comes to year-end lists, I'm a hypocrite. I read them obsessively. I seek them out across vast expanses of the Internet. I'm thrilled when they teach me something.
And yet, for a variety of reasons, I hate constructing my own.
What's more, with the arrival of streaming services like Spotify and Rhapsody, year-end albums lists are starting to feel old fashioned.
With that in mind, here's a list of music-related things I enjoyed in 2013. Some of them are albums. Some are not. Some are songs. Some are not. Merry Christmas to all. I hope my list makes your list of the best year-end lists.
"Sound Opinions" podcast. This free, weekly show is hosted by the Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot and veteran critic Jim DeRogatis features interviews and live performances, album reviews, music news and lively banter between two music-obsessed writers. DeRogatis' slobbering over Brian Eno can be off-putting and the show's abuse of "Stranded" by The Saints has pretty much ruined the song for me. Other than that, it's the best hour of music on the Internet.
"Undercover" videos on www.avclub.com. A constant source of delight in recent years, "Undercover" brings performers into a studio (or captures them out and about) and asks them to cover a tune while the AV Club cameras roll. It's a great way to discover a new band or learn something new about a band you've loved for years. Highlights this year included The Dismemberment Plan doing Heart's "Barracuda," Richard Marx singing "What's New Pussycat?" and Gwar covering Billy Ocean's "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car." The folks at the AV Club deserve a Grammy.
Yo La Tengo at The Jefferson Theatre, Charlottesville, Jan. 24. I started off 2013 by driving up to Charlottesville to see this legendary, influential indie-rock band. Loud and noisy, sweet and tuneful, YLT played arty music with remarkably little pretension.
"Owls," track from The Handsome Family album "Wilderness." This song encapsulates everything I love about The Handsome Family. Cavernous, countrypolitan singing; sensitive playing and lyrics that offer delicious deadpan humor. "Oh the owls, the owls, with their feathers of silk, the owls, they mock me, and have stolen my pills."
Black Sabbath album "13." This reunion album reminded me just how much I've missed the classic Black Sabbath sound. Tony Iommi's guitar riffs are models of tunefulness and economy. Ozzy Osbourne's voice is eerily unhinged. I heard complaints that fill-in drummer Brad Wilk lacked the swing of Sabbath's own Bill Ward. Maybe so, but the disc still delivers the menace I look for in my proto-metal.
"By U.S. Bonds: That's My Story," by Gary U.S. Bonds and Stephen Cooper. Bond's autobiography is full of revelations: He had a bad experience working with another local music legend, Swamp Dogg. In the dark days of his career, after his hits "Quarter to Three" and "New Orleans" had dropped off the charts, Bonds was reduced to shoplifting meat to feed his family. Most of all, the book is an engaging case study in how to survive in the often-brutal music business.
Resurgence of Mill Point Park as a live music venue. Those of us who remember Mill Point's heyday as a live music venue know the park's potential. A few tentative steps were taken this year towards recaputuring a bit of that past glory. While the Mill Point Music Festival was imperfect, it showed that music fans are eager to get back to the park.
Music documentaries, lots of them. Music movies have never been more plentiful. Maybe it's because digital advances have made shooting and editing movies less expensive. Or, maybe it's because streaming technology has made small films more accessible. For whatever reason, music docs seem to be popping up everywhere. I caught up with the 2011 Replacements film "Color Me Obsessed," this year. I plan to see another about The Fleshtones. "Filmage: The Story of Descendents/ALL," about my beloved Descendents, is set to be screened Jan. 25 in Virginia Beach. I am so there.
Laura Marling album "Once I Was an Eagle." My friend and former co-worker Joe Atkinson first told me about Marling years ago but her music didn't connect with me until this arrived. Sounding like a cross between post-heroin Marianne Faithfull and Joni Mitchell, Marling has a voice that commands attention. She writes weighty songs that soar.
"Can't Live with The World," track from Laura Mvula album "Sing to the Moon." This quiet, soothing song meant more to me than any I heard in 2013. Why? It's a beautifully sung message of hope and healing.
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