Robin Thicke's hit single "Blurred Lines" aptly sums up my 2013 musical experience.
This year's buffet of albums I most enjoyed represents a broad array of genres. In my top 50, you'll find from Appalachian-influenced bluegrass (Steve Martin and Edie Brickell) to New Orleans-style jazz (Jon Batiste and Stay Human), from the infectious pop of HAIM to the techno-dance stylings of Avicii and Chvrches to the techno-disco (disco!) of Daft Punk, the folksy country of Caitlin Rose and Samantha Crain, rockabilly-tinged U.K. pop (Jake Bugg), rootsy storytellers old (Guy Clark, Steve Earle) and new (Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark), hippiefied power pop (Mowgli's) and throwback power pop (Free Energy). There's even some heavy metallurgy thrown in for good measure (Black Sabbath, whose album 13 was much better than it deserved to be). My top 50 includes geezer rockers like John Fogerty, David Bowie and Paul McCartney rubbing elbows with up-and-comers like Cults, Lucius and Foxygen. It includes new wave legends (Johnny Marr of the Smiths) and long-gone guitar maestros (Jimi Hendrix). Oh, and I even included some rock and roll (Queens of the Stone Age) and pop punk (the Thermals).
But you won't find any Robin Thicke in my list.
The most surprising thing to me was just how much Americana music made it high on my list. In a year of great pop-style music. Maybe my redneck roots are starting to show.
Anyway, here's the list, with commentary and video for the top 10:
1. Jason Isbell - Southeastern
Ex-Drive By Trucker sobers up and creates the album of his life. Essential tracks: "Elephant," "Traveling Alone" and "Flying Over Water."
2. David Bowie - The Next Day
The Thin White Duke returns with an album that reminds us Bowie is as otherworldly as ever.
3. The Mowgli’s - Waiting for the Dawn
The feel-good album of the year. Hippie dippy poppy fun! I just wish they'd learn proper punctuation.
4. Laura Veirs - Warp and Weft
A beautiful audioscape of Americana.
5. Brandy Clark - 12 Stories
The best of a new crop of "hard" country female singers. (Sorry, Kacey Musgraves fans.) Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette would be proud.
6. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
Dance music for droids. Catchy stuff. "Get Lucky" was the best earworm of 2013.
7. Steve Martin and Edie Brickell - Love Has Come for You
The oddest duet since Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. Great banjerpickin' by Martin accompanying the sharp, spare lyrics of Brickell.
8. Paul McCartney - New
A wistful look back at a survivor's legendary career. It rocks in places, uneven in others, but overall a terrific album.
9. Foxygen - We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace
Want to know what ennui sounds like? It's captured in the lead singer's voice.
10. Guy Clark - My Favorite Picture of You
This video of Clark describing the inspiration for the album's title track says it all.
The next best 10:
11. Arcade Fire - Reflektor
Another reinvention from a band that continues to over-deliver.
12. Public Service Broadcasting - Inform - Educate - Entertain
Recordings from old British propaganda films dubbed to danceable beats.
13. Jon Batiste and Stay Human - Social Music
14. Johnny Marr - The Messenger
Former Smiths guitarist unleashed. All the great riffs of a Smiths album without the annoying croon of Morrissey.
15. Ha Ha Tonka - Lessons
Most underrated roots-rock band, in my opinion. Also, they're from the Show-Me State. All Missourians should give a listen.
16. Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady
Taking up where her last album, The ArchAndroid, left off: Dystopia set to dance.
17. Kasey Musgraves - Same Trailer Different Park
Like Brandy Clark (see No. 5, above), one of a crop of great singer-songwriters to come out of Nashville. This gives me hope for country music.
18. Steve Earle and the Dukes and Duchesses - The Low Highway
Timeworn troubador Steve Earle sings tales of the down-and-out, but with a hint of optimism.
19. Jake Bugg - Jake Bugg
Kid from England who loves rockabilly. Good for him. Good for us.
20. HAIM - Days Are Gone
Trio of sisters whose vocals fit well in a percussion-heavy production.
21. Lorde - Pure Heroine
22. Portugal. The Man - Evil Friends
23. Boz Scaggs - Memphis
24. Waxahatchee - Cerulean Salt
25. Avicii - True
26. Atoms for Peace - Amok
27. John Fogerty - Wrote A Song for Everyone
28. Free Energy - Love Sign
29. Neko Case - The Worse Things Get The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight The More I Love You
30. Best Coast - Fade Away
31. Frank Turner - Tape Deck Heart
32. Hanni El Khatib - Head in the Dirt
33. Bleached - Ride Your Heart
34. Okkervil River - The Silver Gymnasium
35. Caitlin Rose - The Stand In
36. The Thermals - Desperate Ground
37. Mavis Staples - One True Vine
38. Samantha Crain - Kid Face
39. Valerie June - Pushin’ Against A Stone
40. Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe
41. Cults - Static
42. Arctic Monkeys - AM
43. Black Sabbath - 13
44. Lucius - Wildewoman
45. Various Artists - Sound City: Real to Reel
46. Elvis Costello and the Roots - Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs
47. Sebadoh - Defend Yourself
48. Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell and Angels
49. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
50. Queens of the Stone Age - Like Clockwork