all of it was music
“And some people say it’s just rock and roll,
Aw, but it gets you right down to your soul.” (Nick Cave)
I’ve long ago given up on trying to keep up with what’s current when it comes to music, and settled for looking for good stuff from any era, mainly through the recommendations of wise friends. So it’s a surprise to find that four of my top five discoveries of 2013 were actually released in 2013. Get me, here on the cutting edge of culture and all! Here they are:
Hadestown (Anais Mitchell)
For Foes (Sullivan & Gold)
Vampires of the City (Vampire Weekend)
Push the Sky Away (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds)
Meet Me At The Edge Of The World (Over The Rhine)
I should confess that one half of Sullivan & Gold is a friend, so I’m not pretending to be impartial, but I found their debut record a delight from start to finish. Vampire Weekend is just a great pop record, which put a grin on my face and had me dancing round the living room with the kids. And the new albums from Nick Cave and Over the Rhine have both been slow-burners which crept up on me and won me over, after initially striking me as a disappointment in light of former glories. If I revisit this list in a few weeks I suspect they may be pushing for top spot.
But right now my number one slot, for the second year running, goes to a young folk-singer from Vermont called Anais Mitchell. Last year I was floored by her Young Man In America, and that sent me digging through her previous releases. What I found was a strange and wonderful album that is best described as a “folk opera” which retells the Greek myth of Orpheus in the underworld.
It features many different voices taking the different roles in the drama, including Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver), Ben Knox Miller (of The Low Anthem) and Ani DiFranco, as well as Anais Mitchell herself. The story they tell works as a simple (tragic) love story, but also as a kind of spiritual parable, full of a Screwtapish insight into the diabolical thinking of the dark side:
“The first will be first, and the last will be last,
Turn your eyes to heaven – you’ll get a knife in the back.
Nobody’s righteous, nobody’s innocent,
Now that the chips are down.”
The setting for the story seems to be Depression-era America, but it casts all kinds of provocative and prophetic light on the greed and excess of our more recent history and our present. And if all of that sounds a bit worthy and dull, the music is just beautiful and a whole lot of fun – ranging from heart-breaking folk-ballads, to country, gospel, jazz, and foot-stomping Tom Waits-style blues. My kids love this record too, and it’s the most enjoyable, original, surprising and thought-provoking collection of songs I’ve found this year.
Other records I’ve enjoyed this year which just missed out: The Beast in its Tracks (Josh Ritter), Rhythm and Repose (Glen Hansard), Repave (Volcano Choir), Live in London (Leonard Cohen) and 69 Love Songs (The Magnetic Fields). That last one also provided my song of the year, The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side, which was played in our car at least a hundred times in the last few months, and sung at the top of our lungs by the whole family.
As ever, I’m relying on y’all to tell me what my next new favorite album should be…
“To those I’ve wronged, please forgive me.
I hope this song helps you believe me.
The holding on, the letting go,
It all gets buried soft and low,
But even then a song might grow,
And all of it was music. ” (Over the Rhine)