Music was good back in 2013. Some old faves got back in the games, and some new faces popped up to much fanfare. Here is my favorite music of 2013.
NOTE: I obviously did not listen to every single piece of music released this year. No one did. So, I probably missed some big albums. That is why this is a favorite list, not a best list.
Honorable Mention: A$AP Rocky, LONG.LIVE.A$AP; Pearl Jam, Lightning Bolt; Logic, Young Sinatra: Welcome to Forever
10. RFA, Just Don’t Turn the Lights On- This is the first EP from my good friends’ band. Yeah, they are my friends, so I’m biased. But Lights On is amazing. RFA come straight from the Arctic Monkeys/ Strokes vein: polished garage rock. These guys play it loud and fast, but their songs are so tight and sleek. Frontman Dan Cousart shows a lot of songwriting abilities and pens some beautiful melodies. I can’t wait until their next release.
9. Jim James, Regions of Light and Sound- My favorite musician released his first solo effort this year. James, the singer/songwriter/ guitarist/mystical shaman of My Morning Jacket returns to his soul roots for his debut solo disk. He sings a falsetto like a classic soul crooner. “A New Life” is one of my favorite songs of the year, a groovy tribute to James’ R&B roots.
8. Atoms For Peace, Amok – Thom Yorke of Radiohead plus Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers? Yes please. This power duo makes the strangest music this year besides Kanye West. Even more strangely, Flea’s deliciously funky bass and Yorke’s soothing yet creepy voice complement each other perfectly. Backed by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich and R.E.M. and Beck drummer Joey Waronker, the super group creates an awesome blend of funk and synth rock, best demonstrated by “Before Your Very Eyes…”
7. Lorde, Pure Heroine- Damn, this girl can sing. Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor, only 17 years old (hey, that means I have a chance!!! Yaayyy! Ella, go to prom with me!), brings powerful pipes straight from New Zealand. Lorde crafts the perfect 2013 pop album: lyrics ripping our commercial society, with minimalist music in the background. Lorde has a ton of potential; her songwriting and lyrics are already light years ahead of contemporaries like Lana Del Ray or Haim.
6. Pusha T, My Name Is My Name- Menacing, intense, simple, polished. Pusha T’s solo debut is a throwback to some of hip hop classics. No one tells better stories about the street than King Push. His vivid vignettes of street life and success in both the rap and drug games fill the album. Plus, Push’s simple delivery and clever wordplay gives him one of the best flows around. His song “Nosetalgia” with Kendrick Lamar is my favorite rap song of the year.
5. Vic Mensa, Innanetape- It is interesting to thing of Vic Mensa as simply a happier Pusha T. However, that does Vic a grave injustice. The Chicago kid delivers a phenomenal mixtape, taking similar themes to Pusha and adding upbeat sounds to them. His rhyming and J Cole-like flow lets his stories shine. From “Lovely Day” to “Fear and Doubt”, Vic demonstrates his maturity and massive potential. Will soon be considered one of the best in the game, along side…
4. Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap- The boldest, most confident record of the year, even over Yeezus, strictly because of his age. A 20 year old should not be this confident or mature. But Chance the Rapper delivers a knockout with Acid Rap. Maybe the first “psychedelic” rap album, Chance combines early Kanye with funky, acidic sounds to form a blend of music I have never heard before. Plus, Chance is one of the best rhymers already in rap. He shines on songs like “Good Ass Job”, “Interlude”, “Chain Smokin'”, and “Cocoa Butter Kisses” (with Vic Mensa). A dazzling debut, which while it took me a while to like, is now one of my favorite rap albums ever.
3. Kanye West, Yeezus- Brilliance in a CD. Brilliance personified in a musician. Kanye is truly a musical genius. Like, John Lennon/Bob Dylan/Kurt Cobain genius. Minimalist to its core, it took me a while to get into Yeezus. When I did, I was floored. Hypnotizing beats on songs like “Black Skinhead”, “New Slaves”, and “On Sight” are everywhere. Lyrically, Kanye delivers his most interesting album since College Dropout, meditating on being a father and a role model in the black community while lacing his lines full of braggadocio. Yeezus reaches its climax at the last song, “Bound 2”, a return to vintage soul-Kanye. Brilliance. If only it was a little poppier, it would have easily been #1 on this list.
2. Arctic Monkeys, AM- The record that got me the most excited this year (see favorite moments, #2), this was the album where one of my favorite bands became my favorite bands again. Poppy, sleek, AM is easily their best disk since their classic debut, filled with metal, hip hop, and soul influences. Alex Turner is back to his songwriting best, penning his always clever lyrics along with reinvigorated melodies and heavy but poppy guitar lines. The rhythm section is back to its finest, and the whole band is riffing like it is 2006. AM boasts the usual excellent heavier Arctic Monkeys song like “Do I Wanna Know” and “Arabella”, but Alex Turner shows a great proficiency with ballads like “Mad Sounds” and my favorite, “No. 1 Party Anthem”. A blast of pure pop metal.
1. The National, Trouble Will Find Me- No album this year was as deep as Trouble Will Find Me. Every song had a legitimate chance at being on my best songs list, at the least the honorable mention. Tom Berninger and company retain the title of the World’s Saddest Band; however, this time singer Berninger’s melancholy lyrics and beautiful baritone are matched with much faster pace music. The combination works excellently; faster songs like “Humiliation”, “This Is The Last Time”, and “Sea of Love” thrive. As always, The National finish the album spectacularly, with haunting ballad and my favorite song “I Need My Girl” followed by “Humiliation”, the longing “Pink Rabbits”, and the somber “Hard to Find”. The band is excellent, playing simply and letting Berninger’s voice be the star of the show, replete with added range. The best 2013 has to offer.
NOTE: I did not call this Least Favorite Album because this album truly is the worst album. Period
1. Jay Z, Magna Carter Holy Grail- The whole process, from marketing to recording to listening, was terrible. There is nothing good about this album, except maybe “Somewhereinamerica” if we ignore that unfortunate and unnecessary “Twerk Miley” line. Hova hits a new low year. With nothing more to sing about other than designer clothes (BURN IN HELL “TOM FORD”), Jay is obviously just going for the money. Shameful. Retire for real buddy. You still have The Black Album. Also, terrible album name.
Most Overrated Album:
2. Eminem, The Marshal Mathers LP 2:- Don’t understand what all of the hype is about. Yeah, Eminem is back, and he is now “nice”. He’s even apologizing to his mom! But I’ve always said that Em is best when he is mad. All of the anger on this album is faked. Even a song like “Rap God” doesn’t feel like real Slim. The Real Slim Shady would never have to say that he is a Rap God, because the Real Slimy Shady doesn’t care about anyone’s opinion. While not offensively bad like Holy Grail, MMLP2 is just… ok.
1. Arcade Fire, Reflektor: – Arcade Fire isn’t groovy. I love their other three albums, especially The Suburbs. But they aren’t groovy, or funky, or anything like that. Arcade Fire sound distinctly un-Arcade Fire on this record: too funky, not tight enough, not nearly poppy enough. And I’m becoming sick of the existentialist lyrics too. They just tried too hard here. In a year when being a minimalist was a huge trend (Kanye West, Pusha T, Lorde), Arcade Fire tried to make the formula more complex. It didn’t work.
NOTE: I only put one song from a single artist on my top 19 in order to have more variety. So apologies to Kanye, Arctic Monkeys, Vic Mensa, The National, and a couple others.
Honorable mention: Arctic Monkeys, “Do I Wanna Know”; The National, “Heavenfaced”, “Pink Rabbits”, “Slipped”, and basically the whole album; Kanye West, “Blood on the Leaves”; Vic Mensa, “Lovely Day”; Chance the Rapper, “Interlude”; One Direction (I know!) “Story of My Life”; Atmosphere, “Bob Seger”; Logic, “Welcome to Forever”
19. Lorde, “Ribs”- Beautiful melody and harmony from this New Zealand prodigy.
18. Justin Timberlake, “Mirrors”- JT’s best showing from a decent first disk, though the second wasn’t nearly as strong (the only reason it isn’t on my best albums list). A poor man’s “What Goes Around”.
17. Logic, “Nasty”- While not heralded as Chance or Vic, Logic is very talented in his own right. He is amazing on this track. Nasty.
16. A$AP Rocky ft. Drake, 2 Chainz, Kendrick Lamar, “F****n’ Problems”- Banger of the summer, which led to some great lines. And of course Kendrick.
15. Lupe Fiasco ft. Ed Sheeran, “Old School Love”- Lupe delivered a couple good songs in an off year for him with no new album. Back to vintage Lupe, and Sheeran is strong in the chorus.
14. One Direction, “Little Black Dress”- Yeah. NO SHAME. 1D’s Niall Horan really rocks out here, delivering a great power-pop song.
13. Jim James, “A New Life”- Epitomizes Yim Yames’ love of soul. His sweet falsetto never sounded better.
12. Chance the Rapper, “Good Ass Job”- The opener the “Acid Rap”, confidence ebbs off this track. Chance delivers some of his trademark rhyming and Drake-like sing-rapping. Those horns tho.
11. Atoms for Peace, “Before Your Very Eyes…”- Definition of snyth-funk rock. Just a sexy song. Yorke kills the vocals, and Flea is just unleashed with a sick bass line.
10. RFA, “Just Don’t Turn the Lights On”- A garage rock classic. So polished, so tight. I don’t care what anyone says: better than the Strokes.
9. Vic Mensa ft. Kenna and Joey Purp, “Fear and Doubt”- Best tune from Vic’s stellar mixtape. His introspective lyrics and great flow fit this excellent beat. Brimming with potential.
8. Big Sean ft. Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica, “Control”- Decent verses from Big Sean and Jay Electron. Pretty nice beat. And then there is Kendrick. Stunning, spectacular, amazing: these words do not do his verse justice. While I love introspective Kendrick the most, angry Kendrick isn’t bad.
7. Pearl Jam, “Sirens”- Good ole’ Eddie Vedder is back to his ballad-writing best here. He doesn’t have the range of his younger years which made him my favorite vocalist every, but he has heart in spades. Classic Pearl Jam.
6. Kings of Leon, “Wait For Me”- On a terribly disappointing album (their second in a row actually), “Wait For Me” is easily the best track. Caleb Followill sounds as good as ever, and you can hear a trace of their earlier records here.
5. Pusha T feat. Kendrick Lamar, “Nosetalgia”- If Pusha’s album is menacing, its 50% because of this track, my favorite traditional rap song of the year. An old school 90s beat. Two MCs sharing tales of the street. Kendrick delivers my favorite verse of the year here, displaying some dizzying wordplay. Two of the best at the top of their games.
4. Arctic Monkeys, “No. 1 Party Anthem”- Yes, the title may be a misnomer. But this song still rocks. The best ballad Arctic Monkeys ever wrote, Alex Turner sounds majestic here, full of longing. One of the catchiest songs of the year. Turner showcases his impressive range here, giving a memorable chorus.
3. Drake, “Hold On, We’re Going Home”- This isn’t a rap song. Nevertheless, this is a great song. On an album that underwhelmed me, much like Drake in general, “Hold On” is a great example of how some of these new rappers implement different vocal styles. And that chorus, ooh. Catchiest song of the year.
2. The National, “I Need My Girl”- Haunting. The very definition of The National. Berninger shines like he never has before on this track. The rest of the band is excellent as always. The 2013 song I sing the most. Most memorable part of any song this year: the chorus. Magnificent.
1.Kanye West, “Bound 2”- A glorious song. Yes, you may say I am a wimp for not picking one of Kanye’s other less poppy songs on Yeezus. But this song is just a stunner. It’s old-school Kanye at his finest, circa College Dropout, and then throw in some great lyrics about love and self-doubt. Just a brilliant song, and a brilliant ending to one of the albums of the year.
5. Discovering new up-and-coming rappers at the end of the year: in November and December, I finally downloaded mixtapes by Chance, Vic, and Logic. These guys are now three of my favorite rappers out there. I am very excited to see what they do next.
4.Finally liking Yeezus: it took me a while, like 5 listens, but eventually I found myself hypnotized by Yeezus. While it is certainly not my favorite Kanye disc (it’s tied for 3rd with Late Registration and behind The College Dropout and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), it is a visionary album.
3. Hearing Kendrick for the first time on “Control”: mindblowing verse. It actually wasn’t my favorite K-dot verse of the year (see “Nosetalgia”) but it is hypnotizing all the same. My favorite part is probably the “King of New York” section. Bold prediction: by the time he is done, Kendrick Lamar will be the Greatest Rapper of All Time.
2. Hearing AM for the first time: this was the most excited I have been to hear a new album in a long time. Arctic Monkeys are one of my favorite bands, and I feel very sentimental about them because I have liked them since the beginning. But their middle 3 albums were disappointing. AM was amazing, and I have rediscovered my love for Alex Turner and his band from Sheffield, England.
1. Seeing RFA live in concert: yeah, it was technically in 2014. But I will put it as part of 2013 since the band played their whole 2013 EP, along with some Killers, Vampire Weekend, and ended with an awesome version of “Wild Thing”. Awesome night. The guys brought a ton of energy, and they are so polished.
Best cover art (look these up):
5. Trouble Will Find Me: What? I don’t even know. Just a great cover. Really weird but great.
4. Yeezus: fits the album so well. The definition of minimalism.
3. Acid Rap: exudes the confidence that Chance has in spades on his breakthrough mixtape. Trippy and awesome.
2. Innatetape: has that classic hip-hop feel. Just looks classy and street-like.
1. Just Don’t Turn the Lights On: inside story. The flamingo is the best.
Music MVPs (credit to Rap Genius for the name):
Honorable mentions: Kendrick Lamar: even in a year with no album, he dominated. Two of the best verses of the year. The best in the game.
Vic Mensa: bringing more style to the game. This kid got game. Chicago hip hop is taking over: Kanye, Vic, Chance, Lupe.
5. Pusha T: finally released that first solo album. It was worth the weight. He was definitely best known for working with Kanye on songs like “Runaway”, or for being in the group Clipse with his brother (they made the song “Grindin'” you probably know from back in the day). Hopefully My Name Is My Name will allow King Push to really start to pave his own path.
4. Tom Berninger: pushed his vocal and songwriting boundaries this year, and was rewarded with a fantastic album The National have cemented themselves as one of my favorite bands. With his vocals, The National would not be the same.
3. Alex Turner: went back to basics, and was rewarded. AM is a genius album, bringing together so many influences and still sounding like an incredibly tight, polished record. Turner also wrote some of his best lyrics this time around. An incredibly talented individual with an incredibly talented band around him, Turner has lead these misfits from a poor English town to an essential place in music culture.
2. Chance the Rapper: just a bold performance from someone who can’t legally drink yet. Acid Rap will probably go down as the most important CD of this year, certainly in hip hop circles. Chance demonstrated some of his massive talent. His potential seems limitless. He could become that Kanye-Kendrick combo: combining both visionary music with top notch rapping skills.
1. Kanye West: the most innovative, most talented musician alive today. 50 years ago he would have been a culturally aware Jimi Hendrix; 20 years he could have spearheaded the grunge movement or become the first gangsta rapper with a conscience, the Tupac of Chicago. Instead he is pushing rap and music to places it has never been before. After two flamboyant records, Kanye went the exact opposite direction with Yeezus. A brilliant musician and seemingly full of fuel, Kanye isn’t done yet.