During the summer, RBF and I decided we would do a “Best of the Half” - that didn’t happen. WE DID, however, get our shit together for an end of the year list. Please see below for our choices for best albums of 2013. If you don’t like it, make your own damn list, lazy.
RBF’s 2013 Selections
10: Big K.R.I.T. – King Remembered in Time
There is no one out right now, no one, that I enjoy listening to more than Young Krizzle. And though this project is great, it lacks the cohesion that all of his other projects have. Admittedly, this is a mixtape, but this is the first time that a KRIT mixtape actually sounds like a mixtape. His previous tapes (KRIT Wuz Here, Return of 4Eva, and 4Eva and a Day) were so incredible because they felt like singular projects… it’s hard to divorce the individual songs from the context of the whole … in King Remembered in Time, though we have some of KRIT’s best songs to date (“REM,” “Serve this Royalty”), we don’t really get that.
Maybe it’s because he let other people handle some of the production (9th Wonder doing “Life is a Gamble” is a fucking revelation though … please, please let these two do more songs together), maybe it’s because most of these songs were conceived independently from the notion of a larger project … I don’t know. What I do know, though, is this: even when Krizzle releases a mediocre project, it’s still better than 99% of anything else that’s coming out.
09: Freddie Gibbs – ESGN
It can be argued that there’s nothing more important in hip-hop than authenticity. There’s lots of posturing (French Montana, Rick Ross, I’m looking at you) and a hell of a lot of street-talk coming from guys who grew up in the suburbs. When Freddie Gibbs raps about home invasions and cooking crack, though, you believe him, and god damn if he doesn’t sound nice as hell while he’s doing it. Gibbs is the best rapper out there right now. His word play is incredibly complex and his delivery is unbelievably melodic. Though he has a tendency to wallow in trap beats and gives a little too much time to his less talented crew, Gangsta Gibbs is an undeniable force and this record bangs hard. Gary, Indiana’s finest has the ability to make his violent upbringing poetic without feeling exploitative, comparable only to someone like Tupac, really. Gibbs is the man, plain and simple.
08: Action Bronson – Blue Chips 2
Do I really have to do a write-up of this to convince you to listen to it? If you aren’t listening to Bronsolinio at this point, you’re fucking stupid. This is the second collaborative album between Bronson and Party Supplies, and though it feels a bit like they’re trying a little too hard to recapture the magic of the first installment at times, it’s still an incredibly fun record. Bronson always sounds best rapping over simple drums and a loop, and Party Supplies delivers, even if some of the production is a bit lazy. Bronson is such an entertaining lyricist though, that he makes up for it in spades. And that’s word to my parachute.
07: Boldy James – My 1st Chemistry Set
If Alchemist is handling all of the production, you’d have to be a real piece of garbage to not have a great album on your hands. Fortunately Boldy James is not a piece of garbage. This is my first real exposure to James, a young MC from Detroit, and based off of this album the future looks bright for him. Alchemist’s production is impeccable, and like always, he has an incredible talent for matching beats to rappers. On this album, ALC provides a soundscape that really highlights James’ developing skills and is able to fill the gaps where Boldy is lacking. It’s pretty incredible. Alchemist is slowly becoming my favorite producer, and it’s primarily because of his ability to compliment the artists he is working with. His production never feels like it is trying to take center stage, it’s unselfish, and more concerned with allowing the rapper to score, so Alchemist is like the John Stockton of hip-hop, basically.
06: Ghostface Killah – Twelve Reasons to Die
My only complaint about this record is that there isn’t a Raekwon feature on any of the songs. This might be the first full length release from Tony Starks that doesn’t include at least one collaboration with Chef. It’s a great project without him though even if there is a weird emptiness there, and Adrian Younge handling all of the production is on point. There’s really not much to say … no member of the Clan is as consistent with their solo projects as Ghostdini, and this is no exception. A great concept and a rewarding listen, front to back. Starks may be an old man now, but there’s no denying that he’s still just as dangerous on the mic as he was 20 years ago.
05: Joey Bada$$ - Summer Knights
Despite being only 18 years old, I’m pretty sure that the majority of Joey’s fans are dudes in their late 20s and early 30s. I’m definitely one of them. It’s not that his music isn’t unique sounding, or that he can’t connect with his own generation, but listening to this album, at least for me, is a nostalgic experience. I don’t claim that I speak for every dude who listens to hip-hop that’s around my age, but when I hear Joey Bada$$ I can’t help but hear the mid 90s hip hop that first caught my attention in middle school, or whatever. It’s weird though, because even though it’s obvious that young Joey listens to a lot of Slum Village and Boot Camp Clik, his music doesn’t feel contrived or unoriginal. He has an excellent ear for production, and this record sees him growing lyrically … the future is bright for Joey Bada$$ and I can’t wait to watch his development.
04: Roc Marciano – The Pimpire Strikes Back
By far the worst album title of the year. But don’t judge a book by its cover and all that. If you don’t like Roc Marciano, I don’t want to be your friend. Alongside Bronson and Gibbs, Marci is one of my favorite lyricists to listen to right now. His narrative skills are unmatched, and his methodical flow is like butter. He’s just too damn easy to listen to. This is a mixtape, so usually where Roc is handling all of his own production, on this project he also works with a handful of the best producers in the game right now. While Marci sounds incredible over his own beats, hearing him rap over tracks from Madlib (HOLY FUCK IS IT NICE), Alchemist, and Lord motherfucking Finesse is a thing of beauty. Don’t sleep on this, and make sure you keep your eyes open for Roc’s next LP (Marci Beaucoup), which this is the warm-up for.
03: The Underachievers - Indigoism
Much like Joey Bada$$ and the Pro Era crew, the Underachievers hearken back to the energy and feeling of mid-90s hip-hop. Unlike those guys, though, the Underachievers also revel in the more contemporary sounds of artists like Black Hippy and the A$AP collective, creating a sound that is at the same time both timeless and incredibly fresh. There’s just so much energy here that it’s impossible to not feel exhausted after listening to them, in the best possible way. When I hear people talking about hip-hop being dead, or not having a bright future, it’s obvious to me that they aren’t listening to these guys. Though as individuals these guys may not be all that interesting, when they work together, it’s like the fucking Three Musketeers or some shit… they compliment each other so well.
Lyrically, they have a tendency to focus on more psychedelic subjects, which is fucking awesome. In a world of coke and molly rap, it’s refreshing to see the youngsters getting into more productive drugs like psilocybin and LSD. This is a great album, and you should get on board now, because by this time next year, everybody is going to be listening to the Underachievers.
02: Ka – The Night’s Gambit
I’m not going to lie, Ka is a difficult artist to listen to. It’s not the kind of music that is instantly infectious, it doesn’t make you tap your toes and dance, there’s no singles here. It doesn’t allow you to be a passive listener, it requires intellectual attachment. At the same time, though, like all difficult art, it is incredibly rewarding once you “get it.” A frequent collaborator with Roc Marciano, Ka takes his partner’s slow delivery and subdued production to a whole other level. Incredibly moody, and maddeningly methodical, The Night’s Gambit is one of those albums that takes a few listens to really sink in. It’s worth it though. This is not club rap. This is that late night, alone in your room, lights off, staring at the wall rap. It’s hypnotic, it’s meditative. It envelops you and slowly digs into your soul and refuses to let go.
01: Prodigy x Alchemist – Albert Einstein
One of the greatest producers of all-time. One of the greatest rappers of all-time.
The culmination of fifteen years of collaboration. You’re a real piece of shit if you don’t appreciate this album. This is the definition of art. This is the definition of beauty. This is the definition of an album. This is fucking Abbey Road status right here. It’s cohesive, it has incredible depth, and it’s just god damn brilliant. Albert Einstein, indeed.
MML’s 2013 Selections
10. White Lies - Big TV
One thing I like about White Lies is their ability to produce distinctive individual albums, but not so much so you can’t tell who the fuck they are as a band. This means they are able to maintain a balance between experimentation and branding that I think is difficult to do in an industry that wants to maintain a level of sameness. Big TV is a great pop album. It’s less goth than their previous work, but only in the sense they pair McVeigh’s Bauhausian vocals with upswing pop drums and keys. On top of that, their overarching narrative of a couple’s relationship is simple, but well flushed out in the individualized songs. The lyrics are evocative, but even the progression of sounds creeps into your bones and leads your hear where they want you to go.
9. Daughter - If You Leave
All you need is Elena Tonra and some semblance of ambient sounds to make a stellar album. It’s all about feeling. I felt it during the summer when it came out and couldn’t stop listening to it. I felt it in the fall, under the covers and on repeat. It’s an all-year round album - one cool in summer and warm in winter. I love that in its simplicity there is still a sense of a wall of sound.
8. Wampire - Curiosity
Spooky, fun, weird. It’s tongue and cheek, and actually pretty fucking good at the same time. I came across them over the summer and it was instant “holy shit.” You can hear 60s and 70s psychedelia (maybe RBF will disagree) in each song, as well as hints of Devendra Banhart, Flaming Lips, and MGMT. As somebody with a limited attention span, I appreciate the array of sounds they incorporate on the album.
Christ, let’s just cut the bullshit. They have a song called “Snacks” - That’s why it’s here. They’re able to capture the feelings of fury and regret I feel every time I open a Nutella jar. I’m also a big fan of their glamour shot/horror filmaesthetic.
7. Low - The Invisible Way
I love Low. I love their covers. I love listening to them when I’m sad, tired, hungry, doing dishes, when I’m in the shower. I’ve listened to this album 93 times. They’ve been one of my go-to albums for the year. Their consistency is one of the things that keeps them from going beyond five on a top ten list. They’re always good so…
6. National - Trouble Will Find Me
I’m sure this won’t be the first or last time you see this album on a list. I won’t verbally masturbate about The National as lyrical craftsmen or their sublime musicianship. For me this album came at the right time for me. I just signed a lease, wasn’t sure about my job, dragging myself through finishing my dissertation, and needing something like “Graceless.” I love how everything comes together on this album, all the threads of sound, which also reminded me of what I was attempting to do academically. This reassured me that it was possible to put a bunch of stuff together and not have it be just a pile of shit. Also, Berringer’s voice is clutch. Hits me in all the right spots.
5. Emiliana Torrini - Tookah
If you like Bjork, but think she’s too ethereal and conceptual, Emiliana Torrini, might be the Icelandic somebody to invest in and start loving. In the age of new media, I found Torrini through an artist, influenced by an artist, who was reminiscent of another person I was listening. Through this maze, I came across Tookah. It took place of the Lykke Li album I’m still waiting for, as well as captured hints of Daughter, Laura Marling, Bats for Lashes. There are a lot of different tones and feelings that come through in this album - but is a perfect nighttime treat - one full of twinklings and reminisces. Torrini’s voice is everything you want, everything you need.
4. Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady
I actually wasn’t a huge fan of “Dance Apocalyptic” when it first came out and kind of avoided the album - until I saw her perform on television - holy shit. An album can only contain so much energy. When I actually sat and listened to the album, I was kind of floored by how somebody my age could produce so much sound. It has so much history without shoving your nose in it (Arcade Fire, looking at you) and also manages to be fun and danceable, cool and sexy, and Monae’s voice is just amazing. I’ll join her cult because when both Prince and Erykah Badu give you their seal of approval, you’ve pretty much made it. Unlike a lot of pop queens out there, Monae seems to get how to negotiate her identity within the industry’s demands, but still produce, thoughtful tracks. She tackles racism, misogyny, and the meanings aren’t obstructed by flash or bullshit production. Everything fits. Everything works.
3. Action Bronson - Blue Chips 2
MOTHERFUCKER SAMPLES ELTON JOHN’s “ISLAND GIRL”
I love Bam Bam. I do. I love getting wrapped up in lyrics only to be surprised by a line like “My shorty doing kegels for her cunt muscle.” This album just makes me feel good and breathes new life into Phil Collins, which is what I think we all needed.
2. Man Man - On Oni Pond
I always embrace the weird and so does Man Man. I don’t really know how to describe them or this album. They’re another band, which has 9,000 people, 187,000 threads, but are always able to produce a cohesive sound. I think one of the things I like about them is they are always working with vintage sounds, but adding their own synth squiggles, monster mouths, and radness (these are all things actually listed on the album). They’re a band that oscillates between a crazy amount of energy and complete calm. I need that type of frenetic energy in my tunes.
1. Savages - Silence Yourself
It was my album to beat in June and here it remains. I just can’t gush about this album enough. I thought in the summer I might be overdoing it and put a moratorium on the album. When prepping for this list, I realized it still held up and was just as incredible. Jehnny Beth is a goddamn powerhouse. The band is a continuation of my favorite bands - Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, Siouxsie Sous and the Banshees, The Cure. They shred and Beth’s vocals are so fucking heavy - they also come up with lyrics like
I love the stretch
marks on your thighs
I love the wrinkles
around your eyes
Yes, please, and thank you. It just creeps into my bones. I love it, feel empowered by it, and I can’t think of another band that makes me have all those good feelings.