Sunday, January 5, 2014

Recapping the Elusive 2013

Yes, it seems too fast, and it seems a bit arbitrary, but another twelve-month period of recorded time if not recorded music--another year--has come and gone (a little too quickly).  At least, I think it is a little too quickly.  Maybe I feel a bit conflicted on the time keeping, because we as a society may not have accomplished enough to call it a good year.  But how do we measure enough accomplishment; time is a measurable element of life and yet it seems so relative, and maybe a year may seem to be irrelevant as a point for recapping and measurement.  But it is a period that many use for reflection, so, we--you and I--the writer and the reader, will use the year as our current point of reflection, in any event.

For some, 2013 may have left not quickly enough.  After all, this was the year of a badly acted and poorly scripted set of political dramas that went just to the edge and back, several times--it was a time of budget cliffs, sequestration, and a shutdown.  And it was a time for rerunning and reconsidering some scandal-riden, see-through, plastic-seeming politicians such as Mr. Weiner, caught up in more selfie moments; Mr. Spitzer, just caught up again in his pleasures, selfishly; Mr. Sanford, looking for redemption in what turned out to be at least one of the right places; and Mr. Ford, an emerging Toronto mayor to the north, who was taking a crack at a new low level of hemispheric public and private behavior, and who could have been played all too well by SNL's late Chris Farley.  It was also the year of the health-related computer-glitches, the year of spotlighting the harvesting of electronic mega-data for security that drove some to insecurity and questioning of the role of government, and the year that Target records of you and me were targeted.   Most of these phenomenons may not have lasting negative impact, because Weiner and Spritzer lost their comeback bids, Ford lost most of his power, the health site and the Target mishap was and is being corrected (there's that time boundary issue again), and the mega-data gathering was opened to debate and possibly improvement.  And so, a free country lived on in a world of possibly more free nations (at least virtually, electronically, and energy-wise), with some scarred political figures thrown to the landscape of failed efforts, and our system may be stronger, maybe not.  It's all relative, after all, and what is time and measurement anyway.

Time is a signature in music, and as I revise this for the umpteenth time, it was no wonder that some of our pop icons also went to the edge and back.  Long-tongued Miley Cyrus took a "wrecking ball" to the innocence of her prior identity, Hannah Montana, by sporting a set of plastic indecent-wear with inflated accoutrements that stroked, tweaked, and twerked the body populus, if not the body of Robin Thicke, and established her plastic, elastic place in pop culture for yet another year.  Katy Perry and Lady Gaga continued "roaring" through their hit parades, but they both seemed a bit mainstream in the maelstrom of teen pop, and mildly auto-and "arto- popped" by comparison.  And then there the newcomers who showed a promise of freshness, like the talented likes of Laura Marling, Ariana Grande, and the New Zealand pop-savant Lordes who threatened to be part of a new "royal"ty of rock in training, standing in for the previously, unstoppable AdeleBrandi Carlisle continued to show poise and polish, while newcomer Lilly Mae displayed Joni Mitchell-like talent in just her "early days."  Civil Wars realized their promise and lived up to name and naturally split.

And then placed on top of this, is the multi-layered, and multi-talented Vienna Teng, who had a new album, lp, cd, group of songs, or whatever you call it, out in 2013, called simply, "Aims."  And it continued to show her goals, and her growth and development in music, while she continued to experiment with interactive voices and songs, and the interplay of musician and audience.  Her music continued to climb past boundaries as she continued her dual path of music and graduate education, and it was still not clear which path would win--both seemed to be growing in parallel.

A little to the south of me, since place is relative too, all of Nashville seemed to shift a little more pop-ward this year, led by forces such as Taylor Swift, turning "red" and sharing her "trouble, trouble," while the Florida Georgia Line toured with their windows down, and attracted Nelly to the mix dashboard.  Kacey Musgrave and Ashley Monroe added new energy to country.  And maybe pop tilted a little country-ward too, as Home Free, a gifted Minnesota country-tinged a cappella group topped the pop-oriented "Sing Off."

New efforts by Vampire Weekend, and the National showed their depth, while Arcade Fire's new work seemed like a mere "reflector" of past glory.  David Bowie surprised with a secret dropping of "a next day" that sounded a lot like the last day a few years back, while Paul McCartney's "new" work was refreshing rock that showed little sign of  time or age.  Haim, Tegan and Sara, and the new Chvrches of Glasgow displayed their sprightly indie beat, while French electro-robots, Daft Punk "got lucky" with a bright catchy mix of past and future.  And domestically-bred, The Lumineers and Capital Cities hit with catchy, "safe and sound" songs, while Bruno Mars showed his versatility as our "treasure."  Norwegian vocalist Ane Brun stripped down Beyonce's "Halo" to its pure essence, while Kurt Vile shared a "bright and mellow wakin on a pretty daze."  Jon Hopkins sounded a clean, new electro beat, while we were also pleasantly "awakened" by Swedish DJ/producer Avicii, featuring vocals from American soul singer Aloe Blacc.  And from eternity, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and the Dead, all had pleasant issues of previously unreleased back material. 

This year's music books were a natural progression from last year's, with two promising books about the life, times, and music of the Beatles, one about the hectic life and loves of Johnny Cash, an entertaining autobiography of music and life by Graham Nash, the part-story of modern pop by Bob Stanley, and the wonderful historical "why jazz happened" by Marc Myers.

During the year in music, streaming became the first choice of listeners in and out of ear buds blossoming through the likes of Spotify, Rdio, Slacker, You Tube, and the ever popular Pandora, with new players poised to enter the free and paid field in 2014.  With more and more music so readily available, it is no wonder that listeners are exposed to more variety, more genres, more years, more decades, and more styles, and blends became the music of choice for some.  As with the last few years, all styles tended to merge towards each other--rock, folk, jazz, classical, world, country, pop, gospel, and the blues, and more.  Some performers tried to startle to stand out, but it was the quieter, more modest performers that are likely to withstand the test of time.

My musical year always ends with the effort to purchase the year-end special print edition of Billboard.  And just about ince rock began, I have been buying it, but for the last few years, it has gotten harder and harder each year to buy the print edition.  Even in NYC, there were less newstands carrying less newspapers and magazines, as the print media continued its downward spiral, and the material world continued to shrink through technology.

The year ended with a telecast of the annual Kennedy Center Awards.  And this year, it was a musical delight with contemporary tributes to Herbie Hancock, Santana, and Billy Joel by the likes of Rufus Wainwright, Brendon Urie, Tom Morello, Terrence Blanchard, and Marcus Miller.  It was a great reminder for the year ahead that the innovative and pure quality music of all genres lives on, while the more plastic, duplicated and manufactured sounds have only a short shelf-life.   It is all relative after all.