It’s that time of year, folks. Everyone’s reflecting on what’s happened in the past year, tragedies and triumphs, hits and misses. I’m no different, but since I can’t exist without headphones, I tend to focus on music. There have been a lot of great projects this year, and a lot of bad ones, but why give publicity to the bad? I’m all about being #based over here. Without further adieu, here’s a non-sequential list of what are, in my opinion, the best records of the year.
When the Night - St. Lucia
Vic Mensa - Innanetape
Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
Kevin Gates - Stranger Than Fiction
Ariana Grande - Yours Truly
Young Thug - 1017 Thug
The Unnumbered List
Bad Rabbits - American Love
Sometimes really good albums get hard to listen to because of their density. Every song is packed with material that requires careful dissection to truly appreciate, and that’s taxing. Bad Rabbits’ American Love is not that album. The Boston-based funk band’s debut LP is a string of fantastic songs with no attempts at concept or pretense, and it’s a joy to listen to. Think of them as a raunchy evolution of Robert Randolph & The Family Band. With powerfully raw vocals, bouncing synths and syncopated bass throughout, you’ll never get worn out.
Kevin Gates - The Luca Brasi Story
Kevin Gates burst onto the scene in 2013 as one of the most promising newcomers in rap with his mixtape The Luca Brasi Story. On this tape, named after one of the Corleone family’s henchmen from The Godfather, Gates blended sing-song tendencies with trap sensibility and created something completely different from other artists in similar lanes. Gates’ tape is a perfect storm of hardened bravado, emotional vulnerability, and fantastic production, and no matter your predilections, there is an album’s worth of great material there for the listening.
Paramore - Paramore
Great pop rock bands are hard to come by these days. There are great pop artists, but the last few years have seen a steady decline in bands with the ability to craft genuinely good songs that can cross over into mainstream culture. Paramore’s self-titled fourth effort is 2013’s best project in that regard, breaking public perception with a great rock album that defies boxing-in. Hayley Williams’ versatile vocals blend with a wide variety of backdrops, from gospel choirs to distorted guitars to ukeleles, and none of it feels out of place. It’s a real accomplishment.
The 1975 - The 1975
Pop music in the U.S. has grown increasingly international in recent years, with an influx of talent from Canada, Europe and Australia. One of the newer bands to enter the domestic market, The 1975 combines bouncy pop with rock sensibilities and songwriting that transcends either genre. Every track is its own distinct story with very little bleed-through that holds up under repeated scrutiny. It’s a fun record with unique vocals and infectious instrumentation, and stands out as one of the year’s best releases domestically and abroad.
Danny Brown - Old
“Danny’s got his finger on the pulse of his fans, and Old is the best of both of Danny Brown’s worlds… It’s a testament to Brown’s natural charisma and skill that it doesn’t come off as stilted or “fake.” Old is an album shows that you can be crazy and down-to-earth, a tortured soul and a party animal, thoughtful and mindless. Life doesn’t deal in absolute definition, and neither should rap.”
(read my review of Old on BHAMFM.com)
Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels
Lots of rappers try to be something they’re not, incorporating weak pop hooks and ill-fitting guest verses over mediocre production in an effort to reach “the masses.” Killer Mike and El-P, collectively known as Run the Jewels, said “no” to packaging and dropped their self-titled mixtape on us from nowhere. Abandoning all formula, the unlikely duo relentlessly drop some of the hottest bars of the year for 40 minutes of mind-melting goodness. Bar for bar, Run the Jewels shines like a diamond above the rest of 2013.
Chance the Rapper - Acid Rap
Chancelor Bennett became the hottest rapper of the year off of one mixtape, and he deserves that kind of accolade for his work. His cartoonish flow and warbly tendencies might overwhelm some, but with time, you come to appreciate that the 20-year-old Chicago native is far more than a gimmick. Acid Rap blends an uncanny knack for dense rhyme schemes, incisive social commentary and skilled production into a project that will be revisited for years to come.
Disclosure - Settle
Popular electronic music suffers from success. Most top 40 hits lack the soul and musicianship that really grabs listeners, relying on anthemic chord progressions to clothe the naked Emperor. English duo Disclosure’s Settle takes those expectations and throws them into a blender. The combination of talented guest vocalists, thumping bass and lush production can make even the most hardened EDM skeptic dance around the room like an idiot. It’s an album that deserves multiple run-throughs and is guaranteed to power you through your work day.
Kanye West - Yeezus
No album in 2013 was as divisive as Kanye West’s Yeezus. The rap game Willy Wonka took his familiar blend of melancholy, social critique, sex puns and self-importance, but instead of his usual soul-sampling escapades, West brought in outside producers to lay out what could best be described as “acid house dancehall.” As we’ve come to expect from West, it is a great record. West jumps from chest-thumping Marilyn Manson emulation to wistful reminiscence to wall-of-noise trap, and it all works in one way or another. It’s as difficult to unpack as it is to classify, but the reward is well worth the effort.
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
2013 saw a tidal wave of nostalgia hit the pop charts, with smash hits reconciling 70s and 80s tendencies with the sounds of today. At the crest of this wave was Daft Punk, who created what is essentially a robotic tribute to disco with Random Access Memories. It is endlessly listenable, eminently danceable and has enough dynamic changes throughout to keep listeners on their toes. Fantastic collaborations with music legends from eras assert Daft Punk’s continued relevance after a lengthy layoff.
What other projects do you think deserved a shoutout? Let me know in the comments below!