Monday, January 20, 2014

Taking On 2013: Top Albums

We have gotten through songs, which means that in order to wrap up the year in music we have to turn our attention to the complete works: albums. When it comes to albums there is this larger concept that the work needs to be cohesive, not just a collection of a few good songs, it needs to be a consistent sound. So which artists will top the list? How about we take a look at how things have changed.

10. R. Kelly - Black Panties (NE)

Well, here we are. I guess the theme of this year, one that has been bubbling up over the past couple of years along with the hip-hop revival, was one of albums treading the thin line between self indulgence and straight up brutal misogyny for the sake of brutal misogyny. Perhaps the R&B equivalent of Yeezus, what is possibly R. Kelly's most sexually charged release to date veers on both sides of this line with such an audacity that it's hard not to be amazed by the entire album. Home to both "My Story" and songs like "Show Ya Pussy", even during some of its weaker moments it's nearly impossible to ignore Black Panties.

9. Drake - Nothing Was The Same (NE)

I was of the mind that Drake's sophomore album, Take Care, was a bit overrated. It had some interesting songs on it, and it was definitely constructed in a way that was worth investigating, but it was also a bit of a slog to get through. While a bit of the thematic cohesion is lost here, which is disappointing, it is so much more listenable than anything else Drake has released to this point that it is able to overshadow my minor complaints. Throughout this album there's this great mix of vulnerability and braggadocio that results in a Hell of a ride.

8. Pusha T - My Name Is My Name (NE)

What Pusha T does on his album isn't incredibly flashy, and in a world where so many artists can almost be defined by their gimmick, Pusha T is seemingly without one. That allows his raw lyricism to take center stage and along with some of the year's best beats it creates an experience that top to bottom is as enjoyable as it is replayable. 

7. Migos - Y.R.N. (-2)

There is a case to be made that the mixtape scene in 2013 was even stronger than the studio scene (a case that tends to be made, but has become even more apparent over the past couple of years with more and more artists releasing mixtapes at a higher frequency), and even though Migos's Y.R.N doesn't feel like a complete album, it definitely deserves a place on this list based simply on its commitment to a sound. The lyrics here are not incredibly complex (though they are deeper, at times, than many give them credit for), but from the beginning to the end there's this progression of trap rap that is firing on all cylinders. The biggest stride in hip-hop in 2013 was the shift in focus from lyrics to an overall aural experience, and Migos were definitely a huge part of proving how this shift can work.

6. Death Grips - Government Plates (NE)

But when thinking about how instruments can blend with sparse vocals to create an almost entirely new genre there are perhaps few places to look that would be more appropriate than the work of Death Grips. In 2012 they released two great albums, and while loved The Money Store more than NO LOVE DEEP WEB, this album takes the best parts of NLDW and builds upon those to once again transform their work in a way that guarantees Death Grips remain pioneers. 

5. Blood Orange - Cupid Deluxe (NE)

It's at this point in the list where the order of the next couple of releases gets a little dicey. There's a central focus, both thematic and technically, that I look for in all of these releases without many apparent flaws. Specifically, with Blood Orange's Cupid Deluxe there's the creation of this lush soundscape that works in perfect conjunction with its lyrics to explore a sense of insecurity and change with a surprising amount of nuance. The way he uses collaborators throughout the album is also notable for the way it helps create this sense of evolution, injecting each track with its own type of life.

Standout Songs: "You're Not Good Enough", "Always Let U Down", "Clipped On"

4. Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels (-2)

Tough to follow up the type of success that El-P and Killer Mike both enjoyed in 2012, but teaming up to create Run The Jewels spawned one of the most succinct and cutting displays of lyricism this year. As the two effortlessly bounce between each other it becomes apparent that, even with the greatness that preceded both in 2012 and in their long careers before, this pairing brings out the best in each artist. 

Standout Songs: "Twin Hype Back", "36" Chain"

3. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires Of The City (NE)

Throughout the year Vampire Weekend constantly hovered on the outside of my lists, but a strong end of the year push where I found myself constantly coming back to the album. It had unsurprising power throughout the summer, a time that seems to compliment the instrumentals on the work even if it occasionally betrays the songwriting, but the way it played throughout these past cold months was equally impressive. There's a sense of personalization that permeates this album that drew me in, and that was just too much to resist.

2. Chance The Rapper - Acid Rap (+5)

Kind of the proof of this year's mixtape scene, Chance The Rapper's Acid Rap basically feels like a studio album. It's easy to get lost in Chance The Rapper's flow, the tapestries he weaves with clever lines and snappy wordplay accentuate his unique delivery, but it's the material that he confronts throughout the album that elevates it to a level of greatness. Chance The Rapper announces himself at the start and never lets up until it all loops back around. That's Chance.

1. Kanye West - Yeezus (No Change)

So it was written, and so it shall be. Unsurprisingly, Kanye West's latest release strains the balance of what hip-hop music is, stripping it down to its most animalistic parts without sacrificing any of the thematic heft that has defined Kanye throughout his career. There is no album I listened to more last year, and none that opened itself up to more interpretations with each listen. Coming off of My Beautiful Dark Twisted fantasy one would expect Kanye to miss a step, but that doesn't come close to happening, and if he continues to evolve like this I'm not sure he ever will.

And there we have it! So how did the full list shake out? Let's check it out!

1. Kanye West – Yeezus
2. Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap
3. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
4. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels
5. Blood Orange - Cupid Deluxe
6. Death Grips - Government Plates
7. Migos – Y.R.N
8. Pusha T – My Name Is My Name
9. Drake – Nothing Was The Same
10. R. Kelly – Black Panties
11. Lorde – Pure Heroine
12. CHVRCHES – The Bones Of What You Believe
13. Willis Earl Beal – Nobody Knows.
14. Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana
15. Demi Lovato – DEMI
16. Kitty – D.A.I.S.Y. Rage
17. Sky Ferreria – Night Time, My Time
18. Young Thug - 1017 Thug
19. Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse
20. Flatbush Zombies – Better Off DEAD
21. Earl Sweatshirt - Doris
22. Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire - Kismet
23. Danny Brown – Old
24. Action Bronson – Blue Chips 2
25. Haim – Days Are Gone
26. Various Artists – Frozen OST
27. Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle
28. Action Bronson – SAAAB Stories
29. James Blake – Retrograde
30. Christopher Owens – Lysandre
31. Charli XCX – True Romance
32. Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob
33. Various Artists – Spring Breakers OST
34. 2 Chainz – Based On A TRU Story Part II: Me Time
35. David Bowie – The Next Day
36. Miley Cyrus – Bangerz
37. Various Artists – The Great Gatsby OST
38. Various Artists – Teen Beach Movie OST
39. Big Sean – Hall Of Fame
40. Arcade Fire - Reflktor
41. Daft Punk – Random Access Memory
42. Tyler, the Creator – Wolf
43. Phoenix – Bankrupt
44. Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic
45. A$AP Rocky – LONG.LIVE.A$AP
46. Lil B – Pink Flame
47. Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Part 1
48. Pusha-T – Wrath Of Caine
49. My Bloody Valentine – m b v
50. Yo La Tengo – Fade
51. Dutch Uncles – Out Of Touch In The Wild
52. Jay-Z – Magna Carta Holy Grail

So what did I miss? I missed a lot. Let me know in comments and keep checking back as we finish taking on 2013 by looking at all things film in the coming week!


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