Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013: The year in music!

As I have started reading all of the 2013 best-of-the-year lists posted around the internet, I have resigned myself to the fact that I'm not really an active "Music guy" anymore. I still listen to music, and I'm still aware of most of the artists that I follow, as well as the trends and popular stuff (I have to be up-to-date as a teacher), but I'm just not at the level I was five years ago. I have not even written a Year in Review for music since 2010; I always said I would get to writing them eventually, but I think I knew deep down that I just didn't have it in me anymore the same way I once did. After all, it's not really possible to compose a top ten list if you only listen to a dozen albums in a year.

I suppose the evidence has been there for a few years, but I'm just finally publicly admitting it now. After all, I went to one show this year, I have not even bought a half-dozen albums in the past twelve months, and when people ask me what I've been listening to lately, the list is getting shorter and harder to generate each time. I'm now adding maybe a dozen albums in a year to my listening rotation (though I still usually at least listen to twice or thrice that amount), and usually only really adding a half-dozen new artists to my list (this year those artists were The Lumineers, The Lone Bellow, Of Monsters and Men, Whitehorse, and The City Harmonic). It has been a clear trend for the past three or so years; but the question I then had was why this has been happening. I thought of five possible reasons, all of which I think are partly to blame for my descent.

Five reasons for the change in my music habits


1. I got married, so I have less disposable income and time to spend on music. It's not that my wife is opposed to music; it's more that she is very deliberate about all purchases, and while a $10 album is nothing to me, it's a big deal to her. Also, I just don't have the time to listen to as much music now, and I need to share my experience with her. It's probably no coincidence that my peak years (2003-2007) were the years that I was on my own, and that the music I still listen to the most is the music that she also enjoys. I might have once listened to 3-4 hours of music each day (if not more); now I listen to 1-2 at most.

2. The rise of digital music has resulted that fewer and fewer albums are available secondhand. One of the ways I built my collection and my listening rotation was in buying albums at thrift stores, but that's just not a feasible way to do it anymore. There's more music available for sampling digitally, but there's just something about the physicality of an album that makes it easier to focus on.

3. My overall allocation of time has had to change, so I just don't have the time to make for music as much anymore. Between work, marriage, church leadership, life, friendships, and my own interests and hobbies, I just don't have as much time for music. I suppose if it were really important to me that I would make the time, which just demonstrates that it's probably not as big of a deal that I don't spend the hours I used to on investigating new artists.

4. I do not have the same kind of intensity in my community regarding new music. Music, like all forms of media, is an inherently social exercise, and I do not have people in my immediate space who are consumed by music. I still have friends who enjoy music, some at that higher intensity, but it's not nearly as pronounced or as defining a factor as it was even a few years ago. Victoria itself is also a really hard place to be a music fan, as many artists do not cross over to the island.

5. There are just not many new artists and albums that interest me. I know that this point will be more contentious for some, but I think that it's more than just a personal change; I just honestly think that there are fewer albums being released now that are worth my time and energy or even perhaps worth it on a wider scale. Maybe it is entirely that my windows of interest are narrowing as I age, but there is a great irony that as music is more plentiful and accessible than it ever has been that I am less and less interested in the breadth and scope of the entire industry.

Just to clarify, it's not that I'm bitter or frustrated about this change; it has just taken me three years to finally admit it. But in the end it's actually kind of a relief to transition to a different style of music fandom. I find that my tastes are narrowing, but they are doing so in a way that allows me to invest more into and ingest more of each album. Rather than finding something new every week or two, I am able to really listen to an album fully before moving onto something else. I'm less focused on the flavor of the moment and more open to only listening to music that really widens and enriches my experience. I'm also continuing to narrow my scope of genres, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing. I've written before about how the metal/hardcore end of the spectrum is just not of particular appeal to me anymore, and my overall tastes are a lot more mellow.

Best Of 2013


This brings me to my year-end list. My list of albums from 2013 is very short indeed, as I can only think of around a dozen albums that have made any kind of impact on me whatsoever. And really, if I were to give the actual list of albums I've enjoyed the most in 2013, it would include several albums from previous years, including the self-titled debuts from Whitehorse and The Lumineers, as well as Of Monsters and Men's My Head Is An Animal. But despite a small pool of albums, there are still a few that stuck out to me as released in 2013. I know that these are not the "best" albums released in 2013, but they are ultimately the albums that mattered most to me in the past twelve months. Here then, in no particular order, are my top five albums of 2013.

Honourable mention: Daft Punk - Random Access Memories. I really liked a good portion of this album, but I still did not buy it. Maybe I pick it up at some point in the future and really get into it then. It's a great dance album, and "Get Lucky" is one of the best pop tracks in recent memory.

The Great Gatsby - Music from the Motion Picture. I spent a good portion of the summer enjoying this eclectic album. It has some great dance tracks and it really captures the spirit of the film, which remains one of my favourites of the year. There are a half-dozen tracks that have been my favourite at one point or another, but I think the standout tracks are still Florence + the Machine's "Green Light" and Fergie's "A Little Party Never Hurt Nobody", as well as Jack White's cover of U2's "Love is Blindness."

The City Harmonic - Heart. The Canadian group released their second full-length album, and I immediately loved it. This is powerful worship-oriented music that evokes comparisons to Coldplay, among others, though it transcends any mere comparison. The City Harmonic are one of the most creative, effective groups making worship music today, and I cannot get enough of this album.

Dustin Kensrue - The Water & The Blood. The former lead singer of Thrice has been leading worship at Mars Hill church in Seattle, and this album is almost exactly what you would expect given the nature of the church as well as Kensrue's career thus far. It is theologically deep and very liturgical in its orientation; he at times presents a very Calvinist point of view, but it never gets too consumed with these ideas, leaving these modern hymns accessible to everyone. The musical composition is varied, and it includes some tracks that evoke Kensrue's country leanings, as well as one or two that sound an awful lot like Thrice (and that's a good thing). This has immediately become one of my most significant worship albums, and I am looking forward to what more Kensrue will produce.

The Lone Bellow - The Lone Bellow. The Brooklyn-based trio is part of the crowded folk-country wave that has emerged over the last few years to include the Avett Brothers, The Civil Wars, Mumford & Sons, and The Lumineers, among many others. What sets The Lone Bellow apart are their incredible harmonies and their rich songs, especially "Bleeding Out". If you like any of those other artists, check out The Lone Bellow.

The Civil Wars - The Civil Wars. The second album from the estranged Americana duo is even more heart-breaking than their debut, especially with the context of the separation of the singers, John Paul White and Joy Williams. This album is another incredible collection of intertwined harmonies and poignant moments, and the worst part of it is that it might be their last album. It includes several songs that the pair has performed live for up to two years, and although some of the live versions are better, it's still great to have a studio recording. This is probably my favourite album of the year.

In addition to those five standouts, there are a handful of other albums released in 2013 that I think may eventually earn a similar place in my heart. These albums will probably rank among my favourites with more listening, but I wanted to make sure that I mentioned them here.

Avett Brothers - Magpie and the Dandelion
The Civil Wars & T-Bone Burnett - A Place at the Table Original Soundtrack
Fiction Family - Fiction Family Reunion
Gungor - I Am Mountain
The Head and the Heart - Let's Be Still
The National - Trouble Will Find Me
Sigur Ros - Kveikur

So there you have it: my top albums of 2013 as they stand right now. I'm looking forward to the chance to catch up a bit on some of these albums I have missed, as well as maybe reflecting on albums from 2012 and 2011 that I may have missed. I'm also looking forward to the new Switchfoot album, Fading West, due to be released in mid-January, as well as a new U2 album sometime in 2014. Maybe there's hope to regain some of the musical momentum I've lost in the last couple of years after all.

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