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Catchgroove’s Best of 2013 (Albums)

January 1, 2014

Spotify

2013 is over. Rather than rank music I am just going to randomly list albums released in 2013 that touched my soul. The big music event for me this year was Spotify.  For a mere $10 bucks a month I have unlimited access to a pretty bad ass catalog – not everything in the world, but damn near.  This is the greatest thing since Napster.  I never was much of a iTunes guy – too expensive for a download.  I used emusic for several years, because it was lower cost than iTunes and had an eccentric catalog.  But I got sick of its low quality downloads and it was getting as expensive as iTunes.  Spotify is much better – it has allowed me to explore and spend my scarce dollars on what I really want and when feasible the vinyl edition.  And the convenience is unbelievable – synchronization between all my devices (iPhone, home Mac, work PC, and iPad).  You can even download to your device if you know you are going to be disconnected.  The streaming quality is as good as MP3s.  I have not tried other streaming options, so I am not saying Spotify is the best, but it has given me no reason to look elsewhere.

And now the list:

Pat Metheny John Zorn

Pat Metheny – Tap John Zorn’s Book of Angels Vol. 20

I have been a fan of Pat Metheny since the late 70s and I have consumed almost everything he has recorded and I have seen him live numerous times.  He is in my top 5 list of favorite musicians – so I am biased and I tend to love everything he releases. Metheny is as much a composer as he is a player, so it is rare that he does covers – and this may be his first album completely made up of the music of one specific composer.  I am pretty ignorant of John Zorn – just aware that he is certified music genius who straddles several genres.  I came to this album as a pure Metheny fan and found it absolutely delightful.  Metheny plays a studio full of instruments besides guitar – the only other player is his regular drummer Antonio Sanchez.  Metheny explores Zorn’s music with absolute confidence.  For his part, Zorn selected compositions specifically for Metheny.  It is a truly inspired collaboration.  See original Catchgroove post here.

AMOK

Atoms For Peace – AMOK

As each year goes by I have a greater appreciation for post OK Computer Radiohead and Thom Yorke.  So by the time we get to Atoms For Peace I am in a receptive state of mind.  What I like about this album is that it is neither a Radiohead album nor a Thom Yorke – it is its own entity.  “Ingenue” is simply beautiful – the most beautiful song Thom Yorke has ever been associated with.  The video is perfect.  See original Catchgroove post here.

Back Sabbath 13

Black Sabbath – 13

How does a band who I would have thought was completely past their prime and whose members have narrowly avoided death by misadventure numerous times pull an album out of their collective ass that stands up to the best of their catalog?  I bet Rick Ruben had something to do with it.  It is easy to forget, given that Ozzy has become such a caricature, that Black Sabbath is one of rock’s greatest bands.  If you like classic Sabbath you will love this album.  See original Catchgroove post here.

shuggie

Shuggie Otis – Wings of Love

If you have not savored Shuggie Otis’ Inspiration Information, you are missing one of the truly great pop masterpieces.  Shuggie seemingly shot his wad with that album – or maybe not – perhaps he just could not find his place in the fickle world of pop.  Wings of Love is the broken pieces of follow-up albums never made.  The fact that it packaged with a reissue of Inspiration Information makes this a must have for lovers of sophisticated pop/R&B.  Wings of Love (the song) is a 12 minute pop symphony that schools Frank Ocean, evokes power ballad excess (in a good way) with a huge nod to the great Todd Rundgren.  Some how I never managed to give this album a proper post in 2013.

Elvis Roots

Elvis Costello and The Roots – Wise Up Ghost

Elvis and The Roots are both consummate collaborators so it makes total sense to me that this joint venture would totally work and it does.  Given Elvis distinctive voice and lyrics, this is more a Elvis album than a The Roots album.  But given the The Roots are America’s greatest backup band – they are just doing what they do best – making their featured artist sound at the top of his game.  See original Catchgroove post here. If you want a little more weight on The Roots side of the equation look for the Record Store Day Black Friday EP Wise Up: Thought Remixes & Reworks.

sm can

Stephen Malkmus and FriendsCan’s Ege Bamyasi

Releases like this are why Record Store Day has become my favorite holiday.  I am a Pavement and Malkmus solo fan so I picked this up and became a Can fan.  See original Catchgroove post here.

WhySoWhite_Album_WEB-1024x1024

whysowhite – whysowhite

Full disclosure – my son manages this band and I know these guys as my son’s Chicago pals.  But all the same, whysowhite is an amazing band – especially live.  This album merely hints at how great they are. CHICAGO.FUNK.LOVE – indeed!  See original Catchgroove post here.

cloak ox

The Cloak Ox – Shoot The Dog

Albums like this remind me why I love music.  When you listen to a band for the first time (that you have never heard of) and are completely blown away, you are energized to continue the journey.  How can a band this good exist in my home town and I know nothing about them?  How many more are hiding and waiting to be discovered?  Punk Floyd. See original Catchgroove post here.

Made Up Mind

Tedeschi Trucks Band – Made Up Mind

More of the same – and that is a good thing.  Derek Trucks and his wife Susan Tedeschi make some pretty amazing music – bluesy jam band stuff.  Susan’s voice is the perfect foil to Derek’s thick guitar tone.  This album perfects what they have been doing for the last few years – nothing new, just relaxed craftsmanship.

Another Self Portrait

Bob Dylan Another Self Portrait – The Bootleg Series Vol. 10

What at first appears to be a reissue of one of Bob’s most baffling releases, is not.  It is a complete re-imagining of the original release.  Given nearly 35 years to marinate, this collection of alternative versions and outtakes validates the original release for the visionary near masterpiece that it was.  I got taken down by Bob and Sony for the LP and the deluxe CD (which includes a remastered version of Self Portrait and a live set of Dylan and the Band).  All editions come with access to a pretty spiffy smart phone app that is a digital scrapbook to augment the release.  If you are on a budget the 2 CD release is plenty – the deluxe is for the lunatic fringe like me.  See original Catchgroove post here.

jose james

Jose James – No Beginning No End

Despite being in regular rotation this past year, I never managed to post about this album.  This is a great soul-jazz vocal album.  It is both retro (think Bill Withers or Lou Rawls) and contemporary (think D’Angelo or Madlib).  It should appeal to older listeners who love mellow soul and younger listeners raised on hip-hop.

Sun Ship

John Coltrane – Sun Ship – The Complete Sessions (Reissue)

This is one of the final albums I have listened to in 2013.  I was not familiar with the original album.  I am not sure how I stumbled across this album – must have been on someone’s best of list.  I looked it up on Spotify and I was immediately captured.  This was near the end of the “Classic Quartet” and they are not spent, rather they are at the top of their game.  Coltrane exclusively plays tenor despite the soprano on the cover.  His tone is powerful and is the aural representation of wisdom.  This is deep thoughtful music without being pretentious or challenging.  The various takes, inserts and false starts are a delight – it is like you are a mouse in the corner of the studio.  This quote from the liner notes say it all: “The giants that so casually carved these sonic monuments are mostly gone.  To uncover new versions of these classic performances by the Classic Quartet is to re-experience the music as it sound then, fresh, masterful.  It may be the closest we can get to traveling back through time.”

miles mono

Miles Davis – Mono Box (Reissue)

These sides represent, what most believe to be, the best of Miles distinguished career – at the very least they represent Miles at his most accessible and popular.  It is a joy to hear this work as it was meant to be heard – in mono.  See original Catchgroove post here.

Complete Bob

Bob Dylan: The Complete Album Collection Vol. 1

Earlier this fall I debated whether I would get this or not.  Well I could not help myself (I guess this was a Christmas present to myself – I managed to hold off opening it for a month).  I am not sure if a normal person would ever buy this or not and for a hard-core Dylan fan there is nothing really new here.  So it is merely a tidy collection of Bob’s catalog in one neat package.  As of this writing I have just dipped my toe in this ocean of Dylan.  I have been playing random disks in the car with my family over this past week and they were struck by all the different versions of Dylan. If you are a casual to semi-serious fan you likely don’t have everything here.  You will be pleasantly surprised by some of Dylan’s lesser known but still brilliant albums.

AF Ref

Arcade Fire – Reflektor

This is a great pop album by a great pop band.  It is a logical evolution of their sound and it suggests Arcade Fire could have a U2/Radiohead career.  But my sense is that the album fell on deaf ears.  Arcade Fire may be suffering from being too popular for the critics and too weird for the mainstream audience.  See original Catchgroove post here.

Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

Another band that has appropriately evolved their sound.  This an absolutely gorgeous sounding album.  It is both contemplative and rocking.  It is whimsical and deep.  It is retro and contemporary.  Every time I listen to this band it evokes Paul Simon – not in an imitative way, but in an inspired way.

CRB BettyCRB albums

Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Betty’s S.F. Blends Volume One

Well this is what Record Store Day is all about – an over the top special release:

  • Quadruple LP
  • Limited
  • Vinyl only
  • Gorgeous packaging
  • Tie-dyed vinyl
  • Obscure concept (cuts from a multi-night set of concerts in San Fransisco recorded and curated by a protegé of the Grateful Dead)

Need I say more? Yeah it sounds great!

stanko

Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet – Wislawa

I learned about this album from Stereophile – it was their April issue’s “Recording of the Month.”  I had never heard of trumpeter Stanko, but seeing that this was on the always reliable ECM convinced me to buy it.  If you are a fan of Kind of Blue era Miles, you will like this.  But this is not retro, this is thoroughly contemporary jazz.  The sound quality of this album is top-notch (as it always is on ECM).

lloyd moran

Charles Lloyd/Jason Moran – Hagar’s Song

Another great ECM jazz release from 2013.  A collection of jazz standards, original material and offbeat covers (Dylan and the Beach Boys?).  See original Catchgroove post here.

foreverly

Billie Joe + Norah – foreverly

My favorite duet concept in many a year:

  • Pair punk superstar Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day) with pop-jazz chanteuse Norah Jones
  • Cover the Everly Brothers covering classic American folk songs
  • Weirdly brilliant

This works on so many levels and it sounds absolutely timeless.  See original Catchgroove post here.

Neko

Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

Great album title and a great album.  This might be Neko Case’s best release ever.  See original Catchgroove post here.

Max Richter

Max Richter – Vivaldi Four Seasons

This was really a 2012 release, but I did not discover it until 2013.  Classical music with a Radiohead feel.  See original Catchgroove post here.

Jim James

Jim James – Regions Of Light And Sound Of God

Not that different from a My Morning Jacket release, but with a distinctive voice like Jim James it is hard to create much separation.  See original Catchgroove post here.

low

Low – The Invisible Way

I love somnolescent rock and Low is one of the masters.  They have been on a roll for years spinning out wonderfully lugubrious tracks.  This album has the added bonus of being produced by Jeff Tweedy. Jeff brings a light touch and the only thing that is radically different than past releases is the Mimi Parker has a more prominent role as lead singer on several tracks.

Shulamith

Poliça – Shulamith

I could not get enough of 2012’s Give Up The Ghost and Poliça has given more of the same.  The sound is not as arresting the second time around, but this is still a great album.  It is one that grows on you with repeated listens – so show some patience and you will be rewarded.

elvis at stax

Elvis Presley – Elvis at Stax [Deluxe Edition]

I stumbled across this release on Spotify and fell in love with it – mainly because it was not a greatest hits package and because it was beautifully recorded.  The title Elvis at Stax is misleading – this is not Elvis getting soulful and funky with Stax session men.  Elvis recorded at Stax in 1973 because of proximity – it was close to home.  The band is his regular crack TCB band (taking care of business) and they are amazing.  This set gives you alternate takes and studio banter.  What is striking is how effortless Elvis could spit out a great performance.  Elvis is King.

To this point this best of list has been random – the order has meant nothing, but these last two are my best of the the best – my album of the year and first runner-up. 

Daft Punk

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories – Catchgroove’s first runner-up for Album of the Year

I managed to make it to 2013 without Daft Punk making even a slight dent in my consciousness – I heard of them but new nothing about them and could not name a song.   Electronic Dance Music is not my cup of tea.  But I was intrigued by the pre-release hype and decided to give this album a listen.  It totally lived up to the hype.  The pop world does not produce many genuine albums anymore, but this is an ALBUM!  Sure there are singles, but every cut on this album is great.  Kids when the old folks talk about an album vs. a collection of songs like it means something special, RAM is what they were talking about.  I could not stop listening to this thing for months.  See original Catchgroove post here and special vinyl reprise here.

laura Marling

Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle – Catchgroove’s Album of the Year

Joni Mitchell has been on my top 5 artist forever.  I was blown away by this release as it was the closest thing to capturing the spirit of classic Joni I have ever heard.  This is like stumbling across a rare flower at the peak of its blossom.  Side one of the LP is the most coherent pop suite I have heard in ages and completely visceral.  Like Daft Punk’s RAM, this is an ALBUM and not a mere collection of songs.  I have listened to this album more than any other  in 2013 and have never tired of it.  See original Catchgroove post here.

Have a great 2014.  I can’t wait to hear some new releases – it is a lot of work rehashing the past.  Happy New Year!

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One Comment
  1. So many good choices. I will be referring to this and checking some of them out.

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