It's understandable if you believe end of the year "Best Of" lists are largely self-indulgent, because it's fucking true. Music critics write for other music critics and no one else. When the musicians in question sometimes actually read the review, it's largely by accident. All of us writing simple bullet lists of the releases we liked on this revolution 'round the sun are doing it for ourselves, because most of us are geeks and losers who can't play a note -- but hey, we can write, so let's apply that to music somehow. Okay.
Well, I don't care. I read every year-end list from every publication I respect (SPIN, yes, NPR sort of, Rolling Stone, hell no.) because I want to make sure there weren't any albums I might've overlooked. FOMO, the syphilis of our generation, right? Then, in the most menial corridors of my mind, I begin ranking things like the bored ape I am because I can't help it. Even though I realize it amounts to nothing, it's still more fun than making New Year's resolutions I won't accomplish anyway, although I do that, too.
So imagine my surprise (spoiler: none) when I realized many of my favorite albums from 2013 were loathed by better-paid critics. But because they're completely wrong and I'm completely right, (Objectivity? What the fuck is that? You're in the wrong place, buster.) I present to you "Four 2013 Albums Everyone Else Hated That I Loved." Okay, yeah, sure, "everyone" is hyperbole, but it's at least enough people to matter. There's no reason for you read this bullshit except maybe you also neglected these albums and would like to learn more? I don't know! Feed that Fear of Missing Out and turn the page!
Indigo Meadow - Black Angels (Blue Horizon)What the Critics Said: 4.9/10 - "[W]hat's initially thrilling about these Texas psych-rockers gets run through a loop that quickly turns monotonous, then tedious, and finally deadening. Indigo Meadow, is more of the same ... they resemble a knuckle-dragging garage-rock band from the LBJ years now more than ever." Pitchfork 2.5/5 - "The band's fourth album flirts intermittently with heaviness without ever risking metal; suggests spaciness without ever blasting into the stratosphere . . . It's a pleasant-enough swirl . . . But it never expands your mind." - Rolling Stone 6/10 - "[A]fter the first few listens to Indigo Meadow, there's a nagging suspicion The Black Angels may have developed a case of writer's block . . . suffers as a whole from both a lack of cohesion and ultimately, quality." - Drowned In Sound
My Small Voice in a Sea of Cynicism: Maybe, like me, The Black Angels have taken you to places you can't really articulate, landscapes nearly impossible for others who haven't visited to understand. And maybe this new direction for the band, this dip away from protracted entheogenic corkscrews and toward cursory pop-rock jams, has frustrated you. I feel ya if you think Indigo Meadow is just kicking the tires on Phosphene Dream's lackluster attempt at a radio hit, "Telephone," a serious low-point on that 2010 release.
The problem with that attitude is it doesn't allow a band to take its progression into its own hands. Many folks I know turned their nose up at Arcade Fire's Reflektor for the same reason -- it didn't sound familiar. But maybe that's a good thing. I applaud any artist that undermines what built their fame in search of something new. In these cases you have to separate the past from the present. Directions to See a Ghost will always be there, same as it always was, and realizing that will prevent you from missing out on an actually decent album.
Admittedly, Indigo Meadow isn't radically different from The Black Angels' previous albums, but this energetic abbreviation still has application. These guitars can still shred you to ribbons on tracks like "Evil Things" and "War on Holiday" and the introspection on "Holland" and "Black Isn't Black" was worth a visit. No, this won't ever be my favorite Black Angels album, but there still isn't one worth hating.
Exorcise Tape - Demon Queen (Rad Cult)What the Critics Said: 5/10 - "Exorcise Taps manages to recycle musical puns and then proceeds to endlessly check back in with you to see if you still "get it."" - Exclaim 3/5 - "Tonal inconsistency is less a problem with Exorcise Tape than an intention -- rigorous plotting wouldn't exactly suit such an endearingly slapdash sleazefest -- but as short as it is (30 minutes), it's not without its duds, especially after the spell of greatness cast by "Demon Practice" has worn off." - Tiny Mix Tapes
What Others Were Perhaps Too Deaf to Hear: This album wasn't panned so much as ignored, which might be worse. C'mon, it's a hip-hop album that's actually literate, evading the gangsta tropes that have turned rap music into this generation's hair metal. Even much-lauded "alternatives" like Childish Gambino only want to rhyme about their dicks, the haters, and how fame makes them sad. Give me a fucking break. I'll take Zackey Force Funk's apocalyptic falsetto strung through the diabolical musings of Tobacco, the analog brainiac behind Black Moth Super Rainbow, any day.
I might be biased on this one. I did shimmy on down to Tucson to hang out with Zackey, but I only did that because I fuckin' dig on this kind of frenzy, okay? If you don't, fine, fuck you, go listen to Eminem hawk his tired pantaloon shtick yet again. "Lamborghini Meltdown" titillates better than almost anything Def Jam has thrown out lately, "Love Hour Zero" is more affectionate than any whining Drake can produce and "Despise The Lie" (featuring Isaiah Toothtaker, a guy who once collected the molars from his numerous bar brawls) has enough left hooks to keep Tyler, The Creator on his toes.
The mere fact that Exorcise Tape is tailored with the chaotic violence of Tucson hip-hop crew Machina Muerte should only make you Phoenicians proud, maybe even step up your game a bit. The only real downside to this album is it's too damn short.
MGMT - MGMT - ColumbiaWhat The Critics Said: 4/10 - "MGMT's impressive global following should keep them on the festival circuit for awhile, where the uneven acoustics, heat, and distance between stage and audience actually match their blurred music." SPIN 2.5/5 - "[T]hose earworm moments are glossed over almost as soon as they appear, and many of these songs end up sounding drawn-and-quarterd because of it." [sic] - Consequence of Sound D "MGMT marches languidly in place, conserving its meager ideas by stretching them out far past the point of interest." - The AV Club
Why Those Critics Are Wrong and I Am Right: It totally blows every fucking time a single like "Kids" comes along with such permeating, ear-gouging, all-encompassing popularity -- not because the song is bad, but because it really gums any future attempts for the artist to grow. Lorde is gonna have a helluva time doing a follow-up. Critics and fans alike pissed all over MGMT's sophomore album Congratulations because it wasn't a "Time to Pretend" clone, and completely ignored the multitude of gifts that album expanded on. Morons.
This junior attempt had quite a few misses on it. Nothing sounds in tune and there are so many jagged transitions that it took me several listens to realize this was actually a pleasant thing. Weird, huh? The jangly work on "Mystery Disease" and "I Love You Too, Death" were hard on the ears at first, but give it some time and the notes fall into their own, eccentric place. Discord that evolves, challenges you and isn't readily accessible? No wonder everyone hated this album.
Yet, the cover of Faine Jade's 1968 single "Introspection" was especially nice and even the sloppy flute work adds something unconventional. And you know what? Your fucking life IS a lie and so is mine, so there.
Right Words, Right Thoughts, Right Action - Franz Ferdinand - DominoWhat the Critics Said: "[A]n angsty account of the band's struggle with (you guessed it) mediocrity. There are a few tolerable songs, but the rest are obnoxious, and there's a track called "Treason! Animals." Pass, and then pass some gas." - VICE 2/5 stars - "The satisfaction appears sonic alone: Not a song sticks." - The Austin Chronicle "These lyrics are all ... wordy ... the album is merely some Jack Daniel's-soaked madeleine to summon memories of another time." - The Guardian
I Beg to Differ Because Begging Is All I Can Do: Okay, maybe this one doesn't count, since I technically liked only half of it. I'd still rather like half a Franz Ferdinand album than half a Kanye West album (there you go, my review of Yeezus in one sentence. Fuck your idols) or even a full Vampire Weekend album. Despite all my cynicism and bitching (thanks for getting this far), I really do try to focus on the positive, and perhaps that was this article is all about.
Anyway -- yeah, in my not-so-humble opinion, I think tracks like "Evil Eye" and "Bullet" add far more to the so-called "new Scottish Gentry's" canon than is taken away with "Treason! Animals." Maybe it's something personal. "Love Illumination," "Fresh Strawberries," and "Right Action" bring out some slick alter-ego that still wishes it were Alex Kapranos. Still, all the reviews that took potshots at Franz Ferdinand's past fame and growing age acted as if that makes a difference. It really doesn't.
Motherfuckin' Conclusion:Some idiot/genius named Lester Bangs once said, "The first mistake of art is to assume that it's serious." If you read this far without slitting your wrists and developing some warped contempt for this self-indulgent, yet patently insecure author, remember that. This was whole exercise was merely a tongue-in-cheek reminder that music reviews don't have to be the end-all-be-all. Admittedly, every single negative quote was cherry picked from dozenss of other reviews that praised these magnificent musicians, but it serves to make a point. Criticism is weird like that, and objectivity is that white buffalo critics wish to chase off a cliff.
I can almost guarantee these pessimistic evaluations were all written by weirdos like me, with a similar set of problems, fears and an identical amount of inflated self-importance. Still, this is probably one of the few places you'll find a critic admitting that. But enough about my opinion. I want to hear what albums you liked, especially those the music gatekeepers totally neglected. Comments, go.
Troy Farah is wrong and has terrible taste in music at troyfarah.com
Like Up on the Sun on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for the latest local music news and conversation.