all of it was music

This entry was posted by on Monday, 30 December, 2013 at

“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)

4 Responses to “all of it was music”

  1. How fascinating that both Anais and Cave have been drawn to the Orpheus myth. What would CS Lewis make of that?

    I can’t say enough good things about Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. It’s so much more than the Get Lucky single. It detours through Broadway show tunes and many other genres in an album of extraordinary, embracing generosity. The chaps recognise beauty in music wildly different from their own and have such excitement for what they do!

    Discoveries for me have been Phosphorescence and Hiss Golden Messenger. Push the Sky Away is brilliant contains much to love, and I’ve definitely got the Higgs Boson Blues.

  2. jaybercrow

    I’ll have to give the Daft Punk a listen – I’ve only heard the single.

    I’ve heard good things about Phosphorescence but haven’t listened. It sounded a bit gloomy from some descriptions? Never heard of Hiss Golden Messenger. Sounds interesting. Both your brother and Ben Robinson are talking up a band called Lord Huron. Might be worth a look too.

  3. Ricky_mcallister

    You have persuaded me to give Anais Mitchell some air time again as her voice grated on me slightly (albeit after only a few listens). My albums of the year are:

    Push the Sky Away (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

    Wrecking Ball (Bruce Springsteen)

    Concussion (Matthew Ryan)

    Ghost (Radical Face)

    The Happiness Years (Josh Rouse)

    I have been a huge fan of The National for a number of years but their gig this year in Belfast has significantly altered my love of the band for worse. On the other hand, seeing springsteen at the king’s hall once again amplified my appreciation of the boss no end. Worthy mentions? Ashes and fire by Ryan Adams which seemed to be polar opposite to the majority of his recent output in that it was lovely, warm, sincere and heartfelt. Repave by Volcano Choir and The Ghost that Carried us Away by Seabear.

  4. jaybercrow

    I can understand her voice may not be for everyone, but it’s worth trying to get past it – the songs are amazing. Hadestown might be easier on your ear because she shares the vocals.

    Must check out your other choices – I had the impression Josh Rouse had become a bit bland in recent times. Is this a return to form?

    What was so bad about The National gig? I’ve loved their last few albums but hadn’t got the new one yet – my one hesitation is that their sound doesn’t really change much and the albums sound quite alike. I had a similar experience with a terrible Ryan Adams gig (having driven from Coleraine to Dublin) and it’s taken a while for me to forgive him!


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