In your fantasies, you may be an astronaut or a left-fielder for the New York Yankees. In my fantasies, I'm a dude who has a list of the 50 best albums of 2013.
But fantasies seldom become reality.
Most likely, you don't have what Tom Wolfe called "the right stuff" to really be an astronaut and, chances are, you can't hit a major league fastball. As for me, I admit that I just don't have 50 albums to give you. I don't even have 25.
I wish I could give you a massive list of 50. If nothing else it would give this little blog you're reading—my blog—a badge of credibility. It'd make me feel like I was a poor man's Rolling Stone or Consequence of Sound.
But, I just don't have a list of that size prepared for you. And I doubt I ever will. To make a definitive statement that a certain set of 50 albums were the best this year assumes one has listened to 400 to 500 new albums. I haven't. I suspect that if I had to jot it down, I could probably name 100 to 120 albums from 2013. Of those, I think I probably listened to 70 or 80. That means I listened to one or two albums per week. And I don't think that's all that bad. I could name 50 really good albums from this list, but I don't think it's fair to select and reward such a high number from such a small kiddie pool.
For me, 2013 was split fairly equally between filling in the holes in my ever-growing "biological music encyclopedia," new albums from this year, albums I never got a chance to listen to in 2011 or 2012, old favorites, and recommendations I received along the way.
With that in mind, I think 20 albums is a pretty friendly number. So let's do it:
20. Wondrous Bughouse by Youth Lagoon
On Wondrous Bughouse, Youth Lagoon creates music that seems to exist in a futuristic jungle where poisonous frogs hop around lakes of lava and spiders spin glow-in-the-dark spider webs. Though clearly inspired by the Flaming Lips, Youth Lagoon's chief sound-creator Trevor Powers isn't hand-cuffed to his inspirations and manages to create music that is totally him. The results are both complex and enchanting and on "Attic Doctor," "The Bath" "Pelican Man" and "Sleep Paralysis," Powers and company will probably give more than a few listeners goose-bumps. Wondrous Bughouse is very cryptic and the lyrics don't offer much beyond the surface, but with music so multi-dimensionally layered and so strangely beautiful, you aren't going to get any complaints from me.
When it comes to punk, you can't ask for much better than FIDLAR, who on their debut album manage to create an impressively consistent album. It wouldn't be very punk rock of me to dwell on every little thing that makes FIDLAR a great album. Furthermore, there aren't really any intricacies here or all that much worth discussing at length. What you hear is what you get. This is straight-ahead punk rock and it's pretty damn good. Having received a ton of acclaim in the music press, let me be another critic to say that this band is worth the buzz—even though they will probably never achieve the same level of popularity as some of their contemporaries, like Wavves.
18. Moon Tides by Pure Bathing Culture
Moon Tides is simply breathtaking and surrealistic indie rock that recalls everyone from The Cocteau Twins to Jonsi to The Sugarcubes. It's also a debut album and a great one at that. In an economical 37 minutes, this duo from Portland, Oregon, sometimes sounds like they're writing a variation of the same song over and over again, but the sonics are nonetheless both addictive and compelling. Much credit belongs to producer Richard Swift who sketches these nine songs into an instantly appealing collage. Simply put, Moon Tides sounds like an audio version of an incandescent island paradise. And since Pure Bathing Culture chose that scenery for their album cover, one might assume that's the feeling they were going after. If that is true, it's hard to listen to this album and not agree that they achieved that goal extremely well.
17. Welcome Oblivion by How To Destroy Angels
Trent Reznor and Mariqueen Maandig make one helluva husband/wife album. Why? It's not just because they are talented. It's because this creation is so daring and the couple complements each other's art so well. Welcome Oblivion is often extremely uncompromising. Beats, synthesizer guitars, vocals and all sorts of esoteric instrumentation seem to loop around like a conveyer belt traveling through hell. But, it's not hell. For throughout the crazy chaos, the couple is so tuned-in to each other's emotions and individual sonics—and seem so absolutely in love—that Welcome Oblivion winds up sounding like a couples therapy session for two people who absolutely don't need it. They're okay with exploring everything. The album does have several moments that are quite accessible. The best example is the hauntingly-beautiful "Ice Age." Maandig's "every-girl" voice is surrounded by Reznor's effective and equally gorgeous de-tuned chord progression. It was one of my favorite songs of the year. In the end, I believe this is the finest couple-collaboration in recent times. It's second to only Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan. For those that are up to the challenge, I highly recommend it.
16. Piano Sutras by Matthew Shipp
Piano Sutras is both an odd album for Matthew Shipp and for his record label Thirsty Ear Records. Both Shipp and Thirsty Ear have a reputation for releasing avante-garde jazz albums, often with electronica instrumentation doing cool stuff in the background. Piano Sutras, however, is a solo piano album. That doesn't make it any less avante-garde though. Shipp's chord progressions make up 11 original compositions—and two jazz classics—that are both complex and beautiful harmonically. I can't recommend it to everyone, because even I'll admit it has the tendency to sound stale, but that doesn't change that Shipp is one of my favorite modern day piano players and that Thirsty Ear is the one of the most audacious record labels. There is something here for even casual jazz listeners. Take Shipp's take on "Giant Steps," which he adapts into a very original adaptation—even if it only lasts one minute. Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti," on the other hand, is almost unrecognizable. This is an album that encourages a lot of close listening. And when you do listen closely, it's hard not to admire Shipp's absolute connection to his instrument.