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Sweeping Declarations: The Aftermath or 2013 In Music: A Review

It is with an overwhelmingly heavy heart that I must report: my Sweeping Declaration made in March of 2013 did not come true.

Let’s rewind and take a look back at it:

This Year Will Be The Best Year Of Music That I Live To See.

On paper, you’d think I was dead on. The number of good artists to release new music this year? Unparalleled. In fact, higher than any year I’ve been alive and conscious of popular music. That’s why I thought my Declaration was nearly fool-proof. Unfortunately, just because an artist I like releases a new album doesn’t mean it’s going to be a 5-star affair. Let’s first take a look at the albums I listened to this last year:

  • Night Beds – Country Sleep
  • Jim James – Regions Of Light And Sound Of God
  • Madeleine Peyroux – The Blue Room
  • Eric Clapton – Old Sock
  • Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Part 1
  • Josh Rouse – The Happiness Waltz
  • The Strokes – Comedown Machine
  • Fitz & The Tantrums – More Than Just A Dream
  • She & Him – Volume 3
  • Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
  • Jamie Cullum – Momentum
  • Booker T. Jones – Sound The Alarm
  • Jay Z – Magna Carta… Holy Grail
  • Sara Bareilles – The Blessed Unrest
  • Robert Randolph & The Family Band – Lickity Split
  • Mayer Hawthorne – Where Does This Door Go
  • Buddy Guy – Rhythm & Blues
  • The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars
  • Valerie June – Pushin’ Against A Stone
  • Tedeschi Trucks Band – Made Up Mind
  • John Mayer – Paradise Valley
  • Derek Webb – I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You
  • Jack Johnson – From Here To Now To You
  • Elvis Costello & The Roots – Wise Up Ghost
  • Haim – Days Are Gone
  • Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Part 2
  • Amos Lee – Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song
  • Teitur – Story Music
  • Brett Dennen – Smoke And Mirrors
  • Arcade Fire – Reflektor

If you look at the left side of that list, it’s pretty impressive to think this many awesome artists all released new music. It’s what they released that rendered my Sweeping Declaration false. Let me explain with more lists:

Top 5 Favorite Albums of 2013:

  • Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Part 1
  • Haim – Days Are Gone
  • John Mayer – Paradise Valley
  • Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
  • Amos Lee – Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song

Top 5 Album Let-Downs of 2013:

  • Jamie Cullum – Momentum
  • Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Part 2
  • John Mayer – Paradise Valley
  • Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
  • Tedeschi Trucks Band – Made Up Mind

These lists are weird one after another, especially because two albums appear on each. But this is the essence of what made this a weird year of music for me. Some of my favorite artists released music, really good music, but not stunning music. Let’s look at a few examples.

JM’s Paradise Valley is really a great album. Smooth sounds, a nice country/western vibe, nothing too difficult or inaccessible. Just nice tunes about love and summertime. But honestly, this felt like gussied-up outtakes from the Born And Raised sessions. Born And Raised came out hardly a year ago, and it was a perfect example of how JM has managed to continually evolve musically for over 10 years now. But with Paradise Valley (and again, I really loved the album), there wasn’t that same sense of musical growth that JM’s managed to pull off with every single new studio album he’s released. As a consumer, it left me happy we had new JM, but a bit hollow.

Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories is maybe the most disappointing, as they had the biggest build-up and their album was plagued by the same sorts of issues they’ve had in the past. However, it’s still an awesome album. Nobody can make a electronic song like Daft Punk. With the help of Nile Rodgers, they created some of my favorite tunes of the year. The album was just so 50/50 to me. Each song was either a solid gold hit or something I skipped (with the exception of the 3:21-4:11 segment in the middle of “Touch”).

And then Justin Timberlake wowed us all with two album releases. I’ve read that his return to music was due to a contractual obligation, and if that’s the reason for two albums, then I get it. But musically? Part 2 was the most unnecessary album of the year. Especially because of how powerful Part 1 was. Part 1 was a sonic safari through the minds of JT and Timbaland, and it was better than 100% of today’s pop music. Part 2 was overkill, with a few good songs but nearly all of them too long. Did we really need the last track and hidden track? The former was like a leftover from the *NSYNC days and the latter was the fluffiest bit of mush he’s made since the Justified ballads. Again, had JT just stuck with Part 1 and called it The 20/20 Experience, it would’ve been perfect. Part 2 was just excessive.

But truly, even if all of these artists had released their best albums all in the same year, there is still one event that needed to have occurred for me to fully qualify my Sweeping Declaration as true. Whatever year D’Angelo decides to release his third album, the follow-up to 2000’s Voodoo, will be the best year of music I’ll most likely ever live to see.

Rumors have been flying about this album for nearly a decade, but since January of 2012, the rumors have turned into something more than just industry ephemera. D started playing shows again, both in Europe and the States, Questlove began promising the album was close to finished, and Russell Elevado (sound engineer on Voodoo and the follow-up) started tweeted that the album was completely mastered and ready to be released. He’s even mentioned spring/summer of 2014 as a release date.

Frankly, I’ll believe it when I’m holding the album in my hands. 2013 was pretty good as far as music goes, but without a doubt, the year of D’s return will be better.

Here’s my Best of 2013 Playlist:

  1. “Ramona” – Night Beds
  2. “Wild Child” – Brett Dennen
  3. “Waitin’ On The Day” – John Mayer
  4. “Out Of My League” – Fitz & The Tantrums
  5. “Back Seat Lover” – Mayer Hawthorne
  6. “Let The Groove Get In” – Justin Timberlake
  7. “Somewhere In America” – Jay Z
  8. “Fragments Of Time” – Daft Punk
  9. “Don’t Save Me” – Haim
  10. “Our Love” – Josh Rouse
  11. “Reflektor” – Arcade Fire
  12. “Indonesia” – Amos Lee
  13. “Take Me Out (Of Myself)” – Jamie Cullum
  14. “Manhattan” – Sara Bareilles
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SWEEPING DECLARATION…

…This Year Will Be The Best Year Of Music That I Live To See.

It’s a ballsy statement to make, mainly because it’s contingent on a few artists releasing their newest albums this year, when none of them have made firm commitments. However, all signs are pointing to good things.

First, let’s look at the second tier of good music coming out, because obviously the first tier is the most exciting. As of the end of February, only one album has been released that I’m excited to listen to, Jim James’ Regions of Light and Sound of God. Jim James is the frontman for My Morning Jacket, one of those bands who I never think to listen to, and then every time I do I kick myself for not listening more often. They are awesome. James’ solo debut has gotten pretty solid reviews, and especially from Questlove, upon whom I bestow the highest musical regard. If an album gets Questlove’s endorsement, it becomes a must-have for me. After Jim James’ performance with The Roots on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Questlove tweeted, “most beautiful song i ever played on @latenightjimmy. this will be the new say anything ‘in your eyes’ @jimjames” Good enough for me.

The next set of second tiers are all albums with set release dates in the next six months. Keep in mind, this is only half the year.

  • Jimi Hendrix (March 5th)
  • Eric Clapton (March 12th)
  • Josh Rouse (March 19th)
  • The Strokes (March 26th)
  • She & Him (May 7th)
  • Fitz & The Tantrums (May 7th)

Are you kidding me? HALF THE YEAR. Who knows what else will be released in the back half? Other artists that have teased new albums are Jamie Cullum (more than teased, I’m convinced he’s days away from making a confirmed album release announcement), The Bird and The Bee, and Cee-Lo.

Now to the good stuff. I have already written about how excited I am for Justin Timberlake’s return to the music scene, especially after his earth-shattering Grammy performance. “Pusher Love Girl” was so insanely unexpected, both in how awesome it was going to be (I secretly had lowered my album expectations for fear of being severely disappointed) and also just the structure of the song itself. It struck me immediately as a rhythm-heavy song, not in volume but rather in what fundamentally grounded the whole song from going off the rails. But married to that rhythmic element was the most bombastic mix of strings, voices, horns, all culminating a melodic piece of music that floored me. The minor chord in the chorus kept surprising me every single time I heard it, and seriously bore itself into my brain. All of this makes me think that JT is set to release his most musically powerful set of songs yet, but also his most fun. I am psyched out of my mind about The 20/20 Experience.

And here’s where my Sweeping Declaration might prove to be premature. The last two huge album releases have not been confirmed yet, and truly only teased.

Thirteen years ago, D’Angelo released Voodoo and the music world has been waiting for a follow up since then. We might finally see it this year. D had all but retired completely from the scene until January of 2012, when he played his first shows in Europe in over a decade. Later that year, he played his first shows in the U.S. Everyone got excited. Then we didn’t hear anything about a new album. Then Questlove started actively tweeting about studio time with D. Then Russell Elevado, the sound engineering yoda behind Voodoo, started tweeting about finishing up recording and working on mixes of songs off of the new album. THEN in an interview with Billboard just weeks ago, Questlove made a series of seriously exciting statements about the new album:

  • “Right now, we’re just tightening up the loose ends. But I still stand by, 99% of it is done.”
  • “I would not be far off by saying this is probably my generation’s version of Sly (and the Family Stone’s) ‘There’s a Riot Goin’ On.’ It’s potent. It’s funky. It’s an extremely hard pill to swallow.”
  • “If this record is not turned in by February, then something is extremely wrong. Because we worked to the bone in the entire month of January just to tighten up all the loose ends.”

Considering that February is over, I can only hope and assume it’s been handed in to get bundled up for release into the real world. And after seeing this performance video from last year, there’s no way this album won’t be a groundbreaking, watershed musical moment in my life.

And while I would much rather have a new D album than any of the others on this list, I just heard about this next release this morning and am extremely excited about it. Daft Punk have begun seriously teasing a new album release this year. Now I’d heard rumors that they were working on something new, but just recently several things are in place to give those rumors some real weight. First, Nile Rodgers stated he had been working with them in the studio on some upcoming material. Even if you don’t recognize that name, you’ve heard his music everywhere. Rodgers was a co-founder of the band Chic, whose numerous ’70s hits include “Good Times” and “Le Freak” (YouTube them, you will recognize them instantly). He followed up his stint with Chic by producing loads of the most hugely successful music in the next couple decades (Madonna, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, The B-52s, to name a few). So fingers crossed, Daft Punk’s new material has a serious R&B/Disco flavor to it.

Second, in the last few weeks, Daft Punk’s website was changed to nothing but this picture:

Image

And in the corner, the tiny little logo of the Columbia record label. This is significant because they had previously released their albums through EMI Records, and a label change means big things are in the works. And let’s be honest, how awesome is that picture?

Third, and by far the most significant, last night during SNL, this came on during one of the commercial breaks:

Oh my goodness. While it is only a 15-second snippet, this is the most blaringly obvious hint that new music is coming down the pipeline SOON. And my previous hope that this music would bear the hallmark of Nile Rodgers’ production has been overwhelmingly confirmed. This snippet sounds like a B-side off of RisquéIt is groovy and it is funky. A breath of fresh air from Human After All, which ironically sounded incredibly unhuman. Much more reminiscent of Discovery, but as if it had been released in 1977. Cannot wait.

With a fantastic line-up of second tier album releases, and the heavy-hitting triumvirate of JT/D/Daft Punk, I think my Sweeping Declaration is a winner. Now if John Mayer surprised everybody by secretly releasing an album of instrumentals he made while he’s been off the grid, there’d be no question.

-Jon

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