2013 saw the return of NSync’s most talented member, country-tinged soulful blacklisted vocalist, sophomore releases from supergroups, some incredible metal releases, one of the most highly anticipated hip-hop records, and the return of my favorite recent artist from the UK. Let’s see where they fall.
The 20/20 Experience
The first half of this album is unquestionably superior to the second. Timberlake can be too long-winded in execution; some of these long compositions feel forced, and unnatural. What we have is a very ambitious double record. Timberlake won me over with 2007s incredible FutureSex/LoveSounds and I was worried he’d never record another album; instead focusing on music. I’m happy he came back. Next time I hope he favors quality over quantity.
Album highlights: Pusher Love Girl, Strawberry Bubblegum, Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want), Mirrors
Crushing doom record of the year! This is one hell of a debut. I’m not really sure what else to say about this record except it’s pretty great.
Album highlights: Void Angel Ritual, Watchers, The One They Fear
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
Neko Case has released, possibly, the most personal record of her career. She writes from a very depressed place; offering insight into the horrors of parenting (Nearly Midnight, Honolulu), and the neglect and indifferent feelings about the passing of her own parents (Man). I love Neko’s voice and this record is nothing short of awesome.
Album highlights: I’m From No Where, Man, Nearly Midnight, Honolulu
The Bones of What You Believe
This year’s list is definitely full of debut records from exciting new artists. In the battle of female-fronted debut albums, this Scottish trioChvrches, the American four-piece Haim and British trio London Grammar are no exceptions. This number twelve spot was a toss up between three exceptional records, which is why I pointed out London Grammar and Haim. Chvrches won me over with Lauren Mayberry’s fantastic vocals, the 80s synth-heavy compositions, crushing beats, and my general love for electronic music. I’m a sucker for records like this.
Album highlights: The Mother We Share, Gun, Science/Visions
This has been my favorite record to listen to while working. Darkside is a collaboration project between Nicholas Jaar and Dave Harrington. I adore the funky, dark, multi-instrument infused beats mixed with lush, almost Peter Gabriel-like vocals. This record has kept me moving all year.
Album highlights: Golden Arrow, Paper Trails, Freak, Go Home
When I first heard the title track on the radio, I wasn’t impressed. Then I heard/watched their odd half hour post-SNL special, and found myself a bit more interested. This record took some time to appreciate. It’s ambitious sound new sounding, but yet, still refreshes and retains some of the magic that made 2010’s Suburbs release so special.
Album highlights: Reflektor, Here Comes The Night Time, It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)
Trouble Will Find Me
Somewhere between 2007’s The Boxer and 2010’s High Violet I fell in love with these indie rockers. Vocalist Matt Berninger has a unique, sometimes brooding voice. Even more impressive is his odd cadence and phrasing of words. The way he adjusts his voice to fit each composition (or visa versa) is truly distinct. The National has released another great album.
Album highlights: Sea of Love, Graceless, Pink Rabbit
Like many sophomore records before it, this one didn’t grab me like their debut. I really hoped that Channy’s beautiful and vocorded/autotuned vocals weren’t a one-trick pony. It took me some time with their debut record to appreciate her voice being aided and re-imagined through the use of technology. I was a big fan of Roma di Luna, specifically favoring Channy’s angelic voice and reserved stage presence. In Polica, and maybe because of her divorce (pure speculation), she seems to have a renewed sense of power and confidence. I love seeing that confidence in talented people.
Album highlights: Chain My Name, Smug, Tiff
Justin Vernon is no stranger to critical acclaim, and even though Bon Iver might be no more, this record once again proves he can re-invent himself. I know I’ll always eagerly await any project he’s involved in. He’s just that kind of artist to me. I hope he works with Peter Gabriel in the future.
Album highlights: Tiderays, Acetate, Alaskans
Nothing Was The Same
Nothing Was The Same wasn’t as appreciated on first-tenth listen, as Drake’s previous albums had been. Given time, this album grew on me significantly over the course of 2013. It’s still not up there with 2010’s Thank Me Later or 2011’s Take Care, but it’s a welcomed third (proper) record. I’m not sure where Drake is going from here, but I’ll probably like that record too. Once again, Drake doesn’t really say anything lyrically, but man can he sell it to me.
Album highlights: Tuscan Leather, Hold On, We’re Going Home, The Language
Atoms For Peace
The debut record from this Thom Yorke-centered supergroup does not disappoint. The nine tracks exhibited here are intimate and focused. Ingenue is one of my favorite Thom Yorke vocal performances ever, period. I adore everything about it – from the perfect vocal delivery to the lethargic and emotive composition.
In a way, this album feels like a Thom Yorke follow-up to his 2006 debut album, The Eraser, but with Flea along for the ride. The beauty I find in both records comes down to the simple compositions that take some time to sink in. Both records have fueled me through several painting sessions (acrylic paintings), and they will likely fuel several more.
Album highlights: Before Your Very Eyes.., Ingenue, Stuck Together Pieces
Pain Is Beauty
Like a fine wine, this is the kind of record you let swirl around, letting the complexity sink-in and re-define your pallet. She is an incredibly talented vocalist and composer. The layers are so dense, so rich, that it takes time for each composition to take hold of you. These songs being performed by a less capable artist wouldn’t really work. Chelsea has a unique vision and the ability to execute that vision. The result showcases unreal passion, beauty, control, and restraint.
I adore everything about Chelsea and this record. Favorite female vocalist of the year.
Album highlights: Feral Love, We Hit A Wall, The Waves Have Come
Chum Is hands-down my favorite hip-hop track of the year. I’ve listened to it countless times and still think it’s one of the dopest songs in years. Especially that beat. Sick!
Thebe became an urban legend with his 2010 debut mixtape Earl, and his absence from the real world only heightened fan appreciation and expectation. Doris might not have lived up to those expectations, in the eyes of some, but to me, it’s kind of perfect. It still glamorizes some of the adolescent themes of 2010’s Earl, but does so with a level of maturity not apparent three years ago. Releasing this kind of record at 19, I can only imagine what kind of record a 30-year-old Thebe is capable of executing.
Doris is, lyrically, my favorite hip-hop record of the year. Earl layered the wordplay on thick.
Album highlights: Burgundy, Chum, The Hive.
This album landed at number one on several year-end best-of lists. It almost landed at number one on my list too.
It’s no secret that Kanye is a douche; an angry, confused, little boy. Most of the time he’s better off not speaking in public. He ends up making things worse for himself. The world may never understand Kanye West, the man.
Kanye is a genius, and I feel like his genius is misunderstood because he has no clue how to interact with the regular world. You know, those of us who live on the outside of KayneLand. Those of us who aren’t black and attempting to have a substantial career in the fashion industry. Those of us who create the best hip-hop record of 2013 and find reasons to whine about how we’re not taken seriously for….fashion. WHAT?!
What Kanye isn’t is a great lyricist. He’s actually pretty damn awful. Double entendres and racist-fueled hate rant.
Kanye destroys me with his ability to craft beats and sell me on the fact that he believes his anger is justified. This record is a fucking monster. It’s angry, unapologetic, and confusingly hate-fueled. I’m not quite sure why Kanye is so angry, but man does it make this record unreal. I feel like he overcompensates for a lack of lyrical ability or having anything of real substance to say, by yelling loudly and convincing us this anger is rational. It’s entirely possible that Kanye has been discriminated against in some way (though he seems to be and has always been part of a more privileged class throughout his entire life) and maybe that one experience was all the fuel he needed to make such an angry record. I’m left scratching my head pondering what event could have been the catalyst for producing such an angry album.
Album highlights: Everything
I adored James Blake’s debut album and couldn’t wait for a follow-up. He is one of the most exciting artists to emerge in the last 5 years. It seems like he’s only getting better with each release – evolving at an incredible pace.
This is the type of artist that makes me appreciate every second of their work and hungrily await the next installment.
Album highlights: Overgrown, Retrograde, Our Love Comes Bac