This hasn’t been a bad year for music. For some of us here at Cult MTL‘s Music Team, narrowing our favourite albums down to a Top 10 was tough (but we did it — see our picks here). Plenty of great shows went down in Montreal, too. But there are always disappointments. Here’s a list of the records and shows that really let us down:
Lorraine Carpenter: 2013 has had its share of strange surprises, from perfectly formed newbs like Savages to Bowie coming out of retirement with a decent record and Suede resurfacing, sounding just like they did in the mid ’90s — wish I could say the same for Mazzy Star, whose comeback record was a total snoozefest. It’s also been a disappointing year for follow-up albums by bands who put out great predecessors (the Knife, Justin Timberlake, the Weeknd, Anna Calvi etc., etc.), for debut LPs that I wanted to be way better (Sky Ferreira and Charli XCX) and for anticipated albums that never saw the light of day (Azealia Banks, Angel Haze, Jonny Pierce). But Of Montreal making a country record? That was my musical low of the past 365 days.
Johnson Cummins: The worst experience I had all year was attending and working at the ramshackle clusterfuck known as the Rockfest festival, held this past summer in Montebello. Two days of tortuously predictable metal and horrendously tepid mall punk in conditions that included standing ankle-deep in human waste. Too many injustices to even mention here, but it’s safe to say it was just a complete shit show — literally. (Read more Johnson-on-Rockfest here.)
Olivier Lalande: Neko Case’s The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. After such timeless, classic albums as 2002’s Blacklisted and 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, the plaid shirt diva’s current cycle is a hard one to get into. Much like 2009’s frigid Middle Cyclone, The Worse Things Get abandons the country inflexions of yore in favour of a run-of-the-mill, grungy rock that doesn’t serve her voice or her songs. Moments like “Night Still Comes” and “Man” do show some improvement, songwriting-wise, but the treatment—overproduced, boxy—leaves much to be desired. And outpourings of good intentions like “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu,” about a child shunned by an exhausted mom, suggest her storytelling skills are not what they used to be.
Erik Leijon: Lady Gaga’s Artpop. Neither artful nor poppy, outside of her comical over- pronunciation of the German word “kunst.” Abrasive techno-bleats that never capture the heights of her earlier hits (which weren’t all bad), and serve as a cautionary tale for what happens when you become obsessed with trying to redefine the parameters of pop, over, say, writing songs to match those ambitions. This bloated vanity project of overwrought electro- showtunes is meant to represent something much grander, but it’s impossible to say what. The usually sure-footed Gaga comes across as more of a klutz than a kunst on this one.
Darcy MacDonald: What does it really matter if I tell you that Yeezus went straight from the womb to the tomb, or that Magna Carta Holy Grail left the listener dryer than parchment paper, no chaser? That’s still nothing to be disappointed about. Disappointment presupposes expectation. Like most people who consider themselves music fans, as opposed to music consumers, I went out of my way to trump disappointment by avoiding whatever I expected to suck, only getting burned once or twice along the way. It makes the job of critic a lot easier that way. I mean, shit, Em put out a sequel album and it’s amazing. Who saw that coming? Disappointment is for amateurs. Either love it or leave it alone.
Mike Sallot: Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. In their noble attempt to “give life back to music” by using live instrumentation and analogue recording techniques, the robots created a bloated mega-budget, ’70s-style prog-disco odyssey that failed to live up to the incredible early promise of infectious lead single “Get Lucky.” Taken as an exercise in creativity (and marketing), RAM remains an interesting experiment, but not one that I have felt much like revisiting since its release last spring. Never have I tried to love an album like I tried to love this one. ■