The Dear Jerks 2013 Retrospective Chitchat

on Dec 31, 2013

Seasonal Greetings, Readers! Thank you for joining us in our peek back at 2013, which is neither Top Stuff Listicle nor Chronological Recapathon, but is a jumble-y assemblage of wistful remembrances of thoughts that happened in our brains or events that happened to our persons that for one reason or another were tied to music. Witness below a written conversation that we hope will keep you entertained for a few minutes, and possibly encourage you to have a spoken or written or other kind of conversation with a loved one, stranger, or pet.
KYLE: So it's the end of the year, which means we're supposed to reflect on... things. Things that happened this year. Where, oh were should we start? It was a strange year for me personally. Getting married took up a bunch of my attention away from other things (like record shopping), but it was a great year for musicians I love putting out new stuff. I mean, Eluvium, My Bloody Valentine(!!), Tim Hecker, Fuck Buttons, Four Tet, Oneohtrix Point Never, Boards of Canada, Mogwai, The National, Deerhunter, and so on and so forth. 

Plus, there was the unexpected but welcome (to me at least) rebirth of emocore, the all consuming release of Random Access Memories, crossover metal catching on in 'mainstream indie' circles, the whole fox thing, and YOU SIR releasing your own fine collection of songs. Personally, and I think this goes for both of us, I'll also remember this as the year that I stopped caring about Arcade Fire. it was a little bittersweet to realize that I'm just not that into them anymore right as they cement their position as the 'biggest indie band in the world'. Is it Death Cab for Cutie all over again?

IAN: You know, I was in DCFC's camp since mail ordering the cassette of You Can Play These Songs with Chords, and then thought they lost it with Transatlanticism, while the general consensus decided it was their best album. (Subsequently, I think there were some great songs on the two albums that followed, though I can't think of one from their last album.) Similarly, this past ten years has not been the decade I expected to have with Arcade Fire. Like pretty much every other one of our peers, Funeral was the sound of the fall and winter of 2004. Given that I was simultaneously catching up with Broken Social Scene's 2002/2003 breakthrough You Forgot it in People (which, of course, you put in my hands) after coming back from spending half of the year in London, it seemed at the time that 2004 was something like The Year Canuck Broke. The timing was such that Arcade Fire also seemed to naturally fill the empty space left by Godspeed You! Black Emperor going on hiatus in 2003: a Montreal band with a lot of members making dramatic-yet-uplifting BIG music with a predilection for occasionally playing shows in churches.    

When Neon Bible came out, the reviews seemed to fault it mostly for sounding too big, or at least for trying to sound too big, which felt like the first schism between what I heard when I listened to Arcade Fire and what most everyone else did. The only song that really sounded "huge" to me was the one they carried over from their debut EP. That said, shouting the "whoa-oh" verse in "Keep the Car Running" along with 25,000 other people at their Randall's Island show later that October (what a line-up that was, eh?: LCD Soundsystem, Les Savy Fav, Blonde Redhead...) was one of the more ecstatic communal experiences I've ever had at a concert -- along with doing an encore of the "whoo-ooh"s from "Headlights Look Like Diamonds" with dozens, if not hundreds, of most-likely-also-drunk people while walking across the bridge back to Harlem after the show.  

When it was finally time for The Suburbs, I was bummed to realize how little I had listened to Arcade Fire in the interim. Where Neon Bible had felt to me a little oddly stunted (I still don't quite get what they were trying to do with "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations"), The Suburbs, like TV on the Radio's Return to Cookie Mountain and the Stills' With Feathers, started with two different songs that sounded definitively like "opening" tracks, giving the momentum a feeling of being immediately rebooted. It also had five songs too many. Beyond that, clearly gone was the interest in a sense of intimacy with the listener like the one they had once established with more gentle, intricate songs like "Une annee sans lumiere." Everything was now spacious chords and choruses. It was clear the follow-up to Funeral I had always wanted was not likely to ever materialize. Reflektor is now their second overstuffed album in a row. It seems I'm not hearing the same record as the folks who are giving it rave reviews are. I don't think it's bad, I don't think it's great, I'm just...indifferent, which, thinking back on Funeral, is not a feeling I expected I would ever have about their music.
What is it for you?

KYLE: Indifferent was exactly my reaction to both The Suburbs and (especially) Reflektor. The thing is, I think I always expected my relationship with Arcade Fire to end up that way, given how different (i.e. earnest and emotive) Funeral was from anything I was listening to at the time. Maybe it was a bit of a self fulfilling prophecy, but regardless the end result was that I was much more attached to Funeral than I was to Arcade Fire the recording group, making Neon Bible easier to swallow, and the resulting slow drift apart much easier to accept.

I should note, just to be clear, that I make the 'recording group' clarification because I'm sure they continue to put on an amazing live show, albeit one that I am unlikely to see again on my own dime given my distaste for paying NFL suite prices for rock shows... but that's a whole other conversation.

Speaking of sporting events and segues and things that happened this year, I'm eager to get your full report on the Rangers (hockey version) game you attended a few weeks back. You mentioned that the house music in the arena was... of questionable merit. It's often a bit awkward when sports stadiums and music collide, but from what you mentioned it sounded like the trouble went well beyond simple bad taste?

IAN: Okay, so first off: enter Twitter contests. For reals. We got the tickets to the Rangers vs. Canucks game because our friend won them from some watch company via a Twitter contest, and they were the most amazing seats I've ever had to anything, no joke. They were technically fourth row, right behind one of those corner circles where they do face offs. Because of the way it was set up, there was no one in front of us, barring the people who get to sit in folding chairs right behind the boards below us. I could hear the puck hit the goalie's leg pads, and see the players' facial expressions. They tickets would have been, I think, maybe $300 each, and our friend won four of them. From a freaking watch company, via a freaking Twitter contest. Who freaking knew?

But, yes, here's the thing. From 1992 to 1994, I was a rabid hockey fan and went to dozens of Seattle Thunderbirds games, back in that old no-frills '50s era arena at the Seattle Center, now gone, where I also later saw Oasis and The Verve, and where my high school graduation ceremony took place. (The only thing I remember about that ceremony, by the way, was that my friend Samson Kwong quoted that "hope you had the time of your life" song by Green Day in his valedictorian speech. At length. I probably would have quoted Iggy Pop if I had been invited to speak, but to each his own.) During those years, Metallica's "Enter Sandman" was the Thunderbirds' "take to the ice" music, they played Gary Glitter's "Rock'n'Roll Part 2" every time they scored a goal, and for some reason the sound guy couldn't get enough of blasting that opening low note of Rush' "Tom Sawyer." To this day, when I hear that song, I get visions of minor league hockey players skating around the ice in that arena. 

Granted, that was Seattle in the early '90s, and the Rangers play in the New York of the '10s, but the commercial pop music they kept blaring over the PA at the game we went to was shameful. Does Lady Gaga really get a hockey crowd going in 2013? Mainstream rock has been a garbage dump since Limp Bizkit was allowed to happen, and it wouldn't be any more manly to play some of Imagine Dragons' awful Coldplay-ripping Butt Rock or whatnot...but all the same, I felt embarassed for everyone there who wasn't a child or disinterested wife/girlfriend. In fact, the only two times they played a rock song were when fights broke out. After the first fight, they even played a snatch of "Master of Puppets," which I thought I was hallucinating at first. The game is the same, but the music done changed.

Speaking of dark times, maybe now it is time to explore my favorite album-cover-related hypothesis of 2013? That is: your album-cover-related hypothesis of 2013.

KYLE: You must be referring to the great colorless album cover conspiracy! Well you see, it all started when I picked up Cupid's Head, the latest full length from The Field, and noted that the 'white text on black background' album cover was quite a departure from his usual 'color-y words on off-white background' theme. Departure is a definitely a relative term in this case. For an artist who works exclusively in the '10 minute long microhouse tracks built out of slowly shifting loops' genre, any sudden jump feels bigger than it would otherwise. 

At any rate, around the same time  Tim Hecker's excellent Virgins was released, and right away I thought it was interesting that his music had taken a dark turn from his recent work and the album cover, while it does feature a color photograph predominantly on a black background, reads overall as black to me. 

Not long after that is when I noticed that Fuck Buttons had made it a trifecta* with Slow Focus. I think I joked to you that all the ambient experimental guys must have gotten together and made a black album cover pact. In fact, just looking at album cover, 2013 seems like the year of 'thingy on black background' albums, with bands from Deerhunter to Daft Punk using the technique. 

*I so want to include Oneohtrix Point Never in this group , but R Plus Seven has too many damn colors on it. Still, musically it takes a subtly darker turn.

However, maybe there's more going on here than that? In the experimental world at least, the change in color palate seemed to apply to the music as much as the art. Could there be some external forces at work here pushing things this direction? I'd be inclined to think it was the growing influence of metal if it weren't for the fact that the great crossover metal record of the year, Deafheaven's Sunbather, features a pink cover. Also, it is called Sunbather.

I'll toss the ball back over you you at this point. Do you think we are seeing the product of a long wartime recession, a purely musical trend, complete coincidence, or something I'm not thinking of?

The full four-fecta

IAN: Oh, it is a four-fecta when you add in Baths' Obsidian, and that Darkside record can go in the "electronic album with thing-on-black-background cover" category. Those Burial EP's count, too, yes? You definitely weren't just seeing things, this was an unspoken 2013 visual art trend. As for why the music itself would take a dark turn...probably different reasons? In the case of Baths specifically, it was documented that Will Wiesenfeld was understandably influenced by recent issues with his health. Maybe all of these artists went through trying times, and these are the creative results? Personally, I think it would be fun to speculate that the world of electronic music was also at least partially reacting to whatever is left of populist guitar-based music, which has somehow made a tired cliche out of white people shouting "hey!" en masse in the middle of rousing anthems about hero trials to listen to on Apple products while driving hybrids. Or maybe all of these guys randomly got into the Cure's goth trilogy together last year.  

If they have now got it all out of their system, do you think more artists will be following in Deafheaven's footsteps, releasing brightly colored albums in 2014? Are there there any trends that you suspect are coming, or would like to see? My partial 2014 Music Wish List would be for:

A) Dr. Luke & Co. to retire, so every song they play at my gym would stop sounding 100% exactly the same. That kind of commerce approach to "song" writing is bad for the body and mind, like eating McDonald's every day. 

B) Actually, if I could get "A," that would be more than enough. But a new Lotus Plaza album wouldn't hurt either, if that's even a possibility.  

KYLE: It'd be interesting to see what the most common colors are in album art over time. You could take the average color of each album, group them by year, etc. I'm curious to see if there's much difference, and if there's any sort of trend... but man that'd take FOREVER so perhaps one of our fine readers will take up the challenge?

I'm kicking myself for forgetting about Obsidian by the way... ah well. As far as 2014 trends to go, I think that's something to keep an eye on. Are we in for more blackness, or was 2013 just an anomaly?  

In terms of predictions, I'd say we should be on the look-out for genre zombies. As with emocore this year, in 2014 I'm going to guess that we'll see more of the same, with young bands showing renewed interest in every single remaining '90s sub-genre we loved and/or hated. This trend will accelerate through 2015 and beyond, until all music is a nostalgic nod to the music of the previous month.

As for a wish list, I'd like to see:

A) Some new material from James Murphy. A west coast tour to support it wouldn't be so bad either... probably not in the cards, but a girl can dream.

B) More realistically, can we say goodbye to some of these talent competition shows? I have accepted that reality TV is here to stay, but enough of the competitive singing already. It's bad enough that they're constantly on the 3 times a week I try to watch live television, but these shows are DESIGNED to give gigantic recording contracts to singers who appeal primarily to, I don't know, 12 year old girls? Soon, pre-teens will be curating the very world the rest of us have to live in, at least until the adults revolt resulting in the demographic wars of 2020-2023.

Anyway! I think that's my last rant of 2013 unless the Seahawks manage to lose this weekend, and so with that, I think it's time to say goodbye. Say goodbye Ian.