My Favorite New Records Of 2013

Well, this list turned out to be easier than I expected. The way I compile these things every year is I go into my iTunes and organize the tracks by release year and then narrow down which albums deserve a spot on the list. 2013 was an interesting year because I not only cut back on my album purchases — almost all of which are done via Amazon’s MP3 site these days — but also apparently didn’t go for much in the way of new music because I only bought two records that came out in the 2013 calendar year! And, as it happens, I like them both very much. So, without further ado, here are both of my favorite records from 2013.

Volume 3 by She & Him (2013)

I feel like something of a broken record, but I’ve been a fan of Zooey Deschanel since I first saw her in Elf. Several years later she and M. Ward started a group called She & Him. I was sold already because a major reason I like Elf so much is because of her singing voice. Since then they’ve release two more regular records and a Christmas album, which is one of a dozen such records I praised last year. In fact, She & Him Volume 2 made my list of favorite new records of 2010-, so it’s not much of a surprise that their next effort not only made its way into my collection but onto my list.

I didn’t go back and listen to the other records, but after giving this one a more recent listen, I want to say 3 might be my favorite She & Him offering. Deschanel doesn’t seem to be singing as many songs that don’t do her voice any favors and M. Ward is in there creating tracks that feel like what they are: updated girl group numbers. I especially like when he gets kind of twangy and noodley on tracks like “I Could Have Been Your Girl.”

These are just fun, nice, breezy pop songs about all the best pop song subjects: love, unrequited love and lost love. If you’re looking for a mellow record to relax with, I think She & Him Volume 3 is a pretty great option. But, it’s not like this record is all fluff. I actually really got into the heart of “Together” and a few other tracks that have themes I can easily tap into.

This album does something I kind of love, it reminds me of a party. You know how parties kick off loud and great with everyone having fun, hit a crescendo at some point and then end with a few tired/drunk people sitting around talking quietly? I like when albums share that similar progression. You’ve got a lot of the peppier pop songs in the beginning and then end with slower, even more mellow tracks like “Shadow Of Love” that I can easily imagine playing in the background of a clean-up scene at the end of a party movie.

Save Rock And Roll by Fall Out Boy (2013)

My other favorite record of 2013 is another one that’s not much of a surprise. I’ve expressed my love of Fall Out Boy’s rock sensibilities before, so I was all over the idea of a new record from them after their hiatus (no one really believed they broke up, right?). Save Rock And Roll might have a pretty brazen title, but there is a bit of truth to it. I don’t want to be that guy, but as a very casual observer of pop music, I’m not seeing a lot of bands actually getting their music out between all the pop and hip hop tracks. And yet you’ve got FOB whose “The Phoenix” is already an instant sports stadium and commercial hit. How can you not get pumped up to this song? Between that and “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” they’ve got two of the most prevalent guitar-based tracks I can remember in a while which is fantastic because I also happen to dig them both.

Also, I’m a huge sucker for songs about staying young and awesome like “Alone Together,” which clearly means there’s still a pretty large portion of my psyche that’s stuck in my more carefree days. But, hey, why not? Those days were a lot of fun and I like songs that remind me of them. I could easily go through track by track and talk about how I couldn’t stop stomping my foot while listening or how I love dancing around with the kiddo to this record, but I won’t (anymore than I already have, I guess).

Unlike the other records, this one actually features a number of guest appearances from Foxes, Big Sean, Courtney Love and Elton John. I don’t really know Foxes or Big Sean, but I thought they both worked well into “Just One Yesterday” and “The Mighty Fall” respectively. And, guys, Elton John and Fall Out Boy! It sounds crazy on paper but makes a lot of sense resulting in a pretty great title track.

My biggest problem with the record is that I really hate Courtney Love. I was far from excited when I heard she was on the record and while she’s as awful as always, she doesn’t really have much to do in “Rat A Tat” aside from some strange newscaster-esque rants and one bit towards the end that try to ruin the song, but don’t. I can’t tell you how glad I am that she’s not in the mix when it comes to that awesome chorus.

After a four year hiatus, I think FOB came out swinging with a collection of songs that stand up there with a lot of my favorites. Keep it up fellas! Aging dudes like myself still need music to rock out to and I hear the kids dig you too, so that’s good. While writing about Save, I was reading the Wiki page and realized I hadn’t picked up the short EP they did with Ryan Adams called PAX AM Days. I had some extra iTunes gift card scratch and picked it up, but haven’t actually listened to it yet, so maybe it’ll make next  year’s list!

Music Mondays: Fall Out Boy

I’ve always had a love of poppy punk and rock songs that get me pumped up. In high school I dug bands like Blink-182, Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish. In college I found out about Sum 41 and dug them. And after graduating college in 2005, I came out to New York and got exposed to Fall Out Boy thanks to my buddies at Wizard, many of whom were really into the band. For whatever reason, I was kind of stand-offish to the band, but it was all around me and I wound up knowing a handful of songs just thanks to trips to the mall in cars and overhearing it played out loud in the office.

Soon enough I was hooked. The combination of head-bobbing, foot stomping rock and clever lyrics with even more clever song titles (perhaps too clever for their own good as I can never remember which song goes with which title unless it’s really obvious) had me dead to rites. I was a Fall Out Boy fan. I picked up their third record From Under The Cork Tree which had big hits coming out in the form of “Dance, Dance” and “Sugar, We’re Going Down.” Man, I dig those songs. “Sugar” is even one of my ring tones and it because a staple every time the Wizard crew went out to the bar with half of us singing at the top of our lungs and the townies looking they wanted to beat us to death.

I dug their high energy music videos, especially with all that jumping around and bass or guitar swinging around. I think one of them even does a flip at some point. However, I’ve heard that all these theatrics make for pretty poor live performances (I havne’t seen them and eye witness accounts vary, but their Live CD SUCKED, more on that in a bit). Anyway, I went back and picked up their previous record Take This To Your Grave, which is awesomely pop and rock filled, but also really bitter when you listen to the lyrics. However, there were a few tracks I was really relating to at the time thanks to missing some bros who left the company for other states and getting generally homesick like “Chicago Is So Two Years Ago,” “Grenade Jumper” and others. I liked listening to some upbeat music that still captured some of the things I was thinking about and going through as a dude who moved away from every person he ever knew to work in a new place and follow a dream. Don’t get me wrong, FOB’s not supplanting Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd on my all time favorites list, but they are definitely a go-to band when I want to get upbeat and sing along to some jams. A few years later in 2007, Infinity On High came out and I fell in love once again with a pop record. This one felt more polish, which sometimes is a bad thing, but it felt like they had a really good relationship with a producer who understood what they were trying to do. The first big single “This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race” came out and rocked my face off. It feels like a pop rock battle put on wax. I don’t specifically remember, but I would imagine that I picked the disc up on one of our weekly trips to the Palisades Mall for New CD & DVD Day and it was in heavy rotation on my long commute back and forth to work and on my headphones in the office. Once again I had a record filled with songs I could sing at the top of my lungs, plus, Jay-Z who I was just discovering how much I liked did a few little thing like introducing the band. When I saw that the first track was called “Thriller” and heard Jay’s voice, I was hoping they would team up and cover that Michael Jackson cover. It wouldn’t take long for them to team up with another huge name in the music industry to cover Jackson though.

As I mentioned, I don’t like Live In Phoenix which came out in 2008. I don’t generally like live CDs and this one turned out to be not so great with tempos seeming off, vocals not up to the par I expected from listening to the records and some timing issues. But, the huge plus was “Beat It” which they recorded with John Mayer as the record’s sole studio track. I bought the double disc (which came with a DVD I never watched), but sold it back to FYE recently when I realized keeping a whole CD and DVD for one song that I could get for a buck was kind of stupid. For whatever reason, I didn’t buy their most recent record Folie A Deux which came out at the end of 2008 right away. It wouldn’t be until that summer when I was schlepping back and forth to New York City in a daily four hour commute that I finally picked the record up and I really dug it too. Not sure what kept me away, but I liked how the seemed to be growing as musicians. Sure there were your usual word play songs about relationships, but also what sounded like some old school rock and roll (“She’s My Winona”) and “America’s Suitehearts” which had a lot of different elements going on. As with many of my other favorite bands, the new record didn’t replace any of the others in my heart, but it was a solid addition to the catalog. Far as I’m concerned, they haven’t put out a dud studio album which puts them ahead of some other bands in my mind. I get why people don’t like FOB on paper. One of them showed his junk online and also married a lipsynching pop star, but I don’t give a shit about any of that. Some people call them emo or hipsters and I don’t care about that either. I’m listening for the music and as long as the music is solid and makes me want to get up and dance around or helps me get through another round of cleaning the kitchen, then I’ll be a fan for a while. Just don’t start sucking. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Fall Out Boy Love Lost

Check out this story from /Film that combines two of my favorite things: Lost and FOB. Apparently the Fall Out Boys were brought in to help promote all the build up for the final season. I haven’t really been paying much attention to all that (I’d get all twitterpated), but I do love the Dharma gear they’re playing and Pete Wentz giving a shout out to Driveshaft. Good stuff. Here’s the video: