Circumstances this year caused my favorites to be music that I could put on and like without much effort. The vibe of these albums was what was important, as I continue to feel increasingly disconnected from the ways I used to hear music. That’s not a new or surprising trend or one that is exclusive to me, though it did increase several fold in 2013 (likely by a multiple of 3). I liked more music this year than I did last, there are 250 more songs in my 2013 list than the 2012 version, and that’s a great thing. There may not be the same urgency that there once was in how I hear it and I’m fine with that. It’s still the thing that gets me through every day and these are the albums that best did that. Links are to Spotify.
Kanye West – Yeezus I only play six of these songs, but those 6 tracks do for me what no other artist can. He even has me rooting for Kim.
Toro Y Moi – Anything In Return - I have no interest in his prior (chillwave) work, but I loved this album. “Cake” (along with JTs ‘Mirrors’) was the soundtrack to late-night drives home from the hospital. Not because the lyrics were at all relevant, but simply b/c it was so plainly full of emotion and thus, good to sing and emote along with.
The Front Bottoms – Talon Of The Hawk My favorite punk-ish thing of the year. In a year when that emotional connection was sometimes hard to find, this one had me from the opening seconds of “Au Revior”.
Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart I felt like with “England Keep My Bones” you could feel Frank striving to grow in his songwriting. I didn’t get that from TDH, but I loved it nonetheless. To be fair, outside of his throwback hardcore side outfits, Frank probably can’t make music that I won’t love.
The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation This was the year that, thanks to Riot Fest, we could no longer pretend we weren’t of the age to like “nostalgia acts.” Fittingly, I couldn’t help but feel like if I were between 16 and 22, ‘The Greatest Generation’ would be one of those touchstone albums for me. The lyrics, the HUGE choruses and, most importantly, more oomph behind the music than any of the recent pop-punk I’ve heard. It was irresistible.
Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience I was afraid that the completely unnecessary and out-of-character Part II might sour me to the whole comeback, but Part I is so listenable. It’s full of the JT/Timbaland grooves that slyly keep you moving and singing along for 8 minutes tracks without even realizing it. Swap out the tepid and generic Suit & Tie with (still-flawed) Murder as the Jay Z-featuring single, toss in TKO and the first half of Not a Bad Thing and you’d have had an even finer single Experience.
Disclosure – Settle Dance music doesn’t typically move me. This did. Consistent, not at all insistent.
Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety This album is different from almost everything else and, lacking the wherewithal to say anything meaningful about what to classify it as, I won’t even try. All that matters here is that I listened to it a ton and always enjoyed it. There’s not a weak track in the bunch.
Abbott Awaits by Chris Bachelder: Far and away my favorite thing I read. My wife was pregnant and I was powerless against its charms. Funny, thoughtful and inspiring. I read the last page and immediately flipped back to the first to read it again. If you’ve got young kids, read this book. I’ll even send you my copy.
Empire Falls by Richard Russo: Basically a clinic in fiction writing. Incredibly drawn characters and a masterfully told story. It’s just astounding how well done this is.
After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey: It’s a moving story, but I was actually more struck by how it’s written in such a thoroughly lovely way.
Someone Could Get Hurt by Drew Magary: Drew is my favorite writer on the Internet. Like always, he writes with brutal honesty in ways that can be hilarious, touching or both. I think the chapters DUI, Faka and NICU are absolutely perfect.
Hidden Cities by Moses Gates: I’m a sucker for the clickbait that is those “Look At The Photos These Urban Explorers Took From the Top Of A Bridge” articles. Turns out, I find it interesting in written format too.
Frozen in Time by Mitchell Zuckoff: I preferred this one to Vanished, which is a similar story set in the complete opposite location. Both, though, give a perspective to history that is mind-boggling to think about.
The Problems with Playing Organized Sports as an Adult
Best case: You win. And 5 minutes later you never think about it again because, come on, you’re a middle-aged mediocre “athlete”. No one cares, nor should they. But at least you got some exercise.
Worst case: You lose. In some aggravating or embarrassing manner. You’re in your head for three days about it despite the fact that it’s meaningless and you know that. You aren’t really upset about the result, but why can’t you stop thinking about it?
The only guarantee: At least one guy you play against is a dickhead. Once you’e out of high school, you’re no longer forced to see jerks in your day-to-day life, it’s pretty simple to cut them out. But there’s always one on the other team, talking too much, embracing and forcing animosity for no reason. These men likely have wives or girlfriends, maybe even kids. They probably hate them, but they have them.
Wiping a butt, squeezing some Carnation through a nipple, mopping up the milk puke with a dishrag, all that was mere tasks and procedures, a series of steps, the same as the rest of life. Duties to pull, slow parts to get through, shifts to endure. Put your thought processes to work on teasing out a tricky time signature from On the Corner or one of the more obscure passages from The Meditations, sort your way one-handed through a box of interesting records, and before you knew it, nap time had arrived, Mommy had come home, and you were free to go about your business again. It was like the army; Be careful, find a cool dry place to stash your mind, and hang on until it was over. Except, of course (he realized, experiencing the full-court press of a panic that had been flirting with him for months, mostly at three o’clock in the morning when his wife’s restless pregnant tossing disturbed his sleep, a panic that the practice session with Rolando English had been intended, vainly, he saw, to alleviate), it would never be over. You never would get through to the end of being a father, no matter where you stored your mind or how many steps in the series you followed. Not even if you died. Alive or dead or a thousand miles distant, you were always going to be on the hook for work that was neither a procedure nor a series of steps but, rather, something that demanded your full, constant attention without necessarily calling on you to do, perform, or say anything at all. Archy’s own father has walked out on him and his mother when Archy was not much older than Rolando English, and even though, for a few years afterward, as his star briefly ascended, Luther Stallings still came around, paid his child support on time, took Archy to A’s games, to Marriot’s Great America and whatnot, there was something further required of old Luther that never materialized, some part of him that never showed up, even when he was standing right beside Archy. Fathering imposed an obligation that was more than your money, your body, or your time, a presence neither physical nor measurable by clocks: open-ended, eternal, and invisible, like the commitment of gravity to the stars.