I love lists. I know we’re right in the middle of my “metaphor project” but I can’t help myself. Maybe somehow God is like a list…. Anyways.
I’ve started to see Best Albums of 2013 lists popping up and so I thought I’d share my favorites with you so you can drop any post-Black Friday cash left or so you can prep for how you’ll spend any iTunes cards you get over Christmas (this is a Smith family tradition).
This year is really difficult to break down for me. I really got into electronica this year and many of my favorite albums this year were probably colored by the “newness” of that jag. “Good hip-hop” took an even further step as Jay-Z released what would have been a “Hip Hop Record of the Year” five years ago but was pretty much unanimously agreed to be a flop (except by the Grammy, as usual). And then there was the return of Arcade Fire, Kanye West, and Volcano Choir. What’s a guy to do?
A thought: There is a real inauthenticity to putting all records into list from 20-1.
The list tends to level off any thing extracurricular to the album. One record may have my favorite lyrics while another might have been more sonically engrossing. Furthermore, one may have made a much bigger statement that made up for any of its sonic flaws.
Having said that, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to break my list down into categories. They’re genres, really.
I like Hip-Hop, Electronic, Folksy, and Indie. I’m gonna give you (at least) three records that were the best in that genre for the year. I’ll rank them in order within their genres so at least you get a sense of what I thought was better—this way you can more easily rail on me in the comments section.
I’ll also tell you what I thought were the top five songs of the year. We live in a singles age. Sorry.
Before I get into that (sorry, this is gonna be a long post) I want talk about what you might call “Honorable Mention.” Here’s how I want to break this down. There were some albums this year that I “got” that I don’t feel like anyone else “got.” At the same time, there were some albums that everyone else “got” but that I really didn’t “get” at all. I should mention both before I get into the rankings.
Albums Everyone Else Got But I Really Didn’t Get
Drake – Nothing Was Ever The Same
I don’t get Drake. I can admit that. I love his singles, and on this record “Started from the Bottom” is no exception. That song is really, really good. The rest of this album is just filler for me, or even if I really could like it I don’t feel the need to give it a fair shot. When I first listened to the non-single portions of Take Care I didn’t like them as much as I liked the singles, but I was struck by the need to grapple with them, to give them a fair hearing. Not with this one. It may have just been a year in which a record like this gets lost because of how great every other hip-hop record was.
The Field – Cupid’s Head
I don’t get why Pitchfork, et al, love The Field. I find it to be exceptionally boring house music. Particularly when viewed alongside of Nicolas Jaar or Tim Hecker.
My Bloody Valentine – mbv
I’m not saying this wasn’t a good record. Maybe even a great record. But its one that I’ve pretty consistently forgotten came out this year. Yes, it was very early in the year but it seemed like most of the rage on this one was over the fact that it was My Bloody Valentine coming back rather than just a good record.
Albums I Got But No Else Did
Heirlooms of August – Down at the 5-Star
This record is incredible. And heartbreaking. And it makes me feel like I’ve spent a week back in my small hometown just from listening to it all the way through. Very underrated.
San Fermin – San Fermin
Listen to “Sonsick” and tell me this shouldn’t be on a Best Albums list somewhere. Come on, people.
The Lonely Island – The Wack Album
Say what you want about Pitchfork, but they got this one right when they gave this a 7.2. This is a legitimate rap record. The fact that it is parody, in my mind, is irrelevant. Production is excellent. Lyrics are excellent. Hooks are unforgettable and instantly quotable. I don’t know why more people aren’t paying attention to the Lonely Island. They deserve real attention as artists.
Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience, Part I
Yeah, yeah I know. “What?! Everyone bought this record. And went apeshit over it. How can you say people didn’t ‘get’ it?!”
Look, I’m not saying people didn’t get it, but they definitely did not give it the credit it deserves—at least not in the two end of the year lists I’ve seen thus far.
This record should easily be a top 20 record in every list, but because Part 2 of the 20/20 Experience was so unadulterated terrible people will undersell how great Part 1 was. It was exceptional pop music from an exceptional talent. It deserves more praise than it’s getting.
—————————-Songs of the Year—————————————————–
Here’s where some of those records that will appear everywhere get mentioned.
5.) Boards of Canada – Reach for the Dead
Listen to the opening five seconds of this song. I don’t understand you if you don’t ask yourself “how did they make that sound?” at least three times. It gets even better from there.
4.) Vampire Weekend – Unbelievers
Don’t worry, Vampire Weekend made my top album list below, but this song deserves special attention as it is freaking amazing. Clearly superior, in my mind, to the early singles “Diane Young” or “Step.”
3.) Volcano Choir – Comrade
It’s the closest thing I’ll get to a Bon Iver song this year so here it is.
2.) Disclosure – Latch
I didn’t really love this record as a whole but this song is incredible. I don’t know how Sam Smith makes the sounds he does with his mouth but I just hope he doesn’t smoke it all away (looking at you Adele…).
1.) Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Yep, you guessed it. Arcade Fire does not appear on my top 3 list below in the Indie Category. The album just wasn’t melodic enough for me. It felt like a band trying to be “really complex” when in fact all they succeeded in doing was making a crummy record. Funeral cut through you but still felt like listening to your favorite garage band. The Suburbs was maximalist to be sure, but it held you hand all the way through by hooking you at almost every corner. Hell, even Neon Bible had “Keep the Car Running.” But Reflektor really didn’t do that for me, apart from the title track. This song is absolutely stunning lyrically and offers a lot of promise for what this band is becoming. I just think their effort, as a whole, failed in long form.
____________________The Main Event_________________________________
This was my least favorite category this year. Not many great singer-songwriter records came out and the ones that did were nothing like what this genre has delivered in the past (Where are you Fleet Foxes?!!). Here’s my top 3:
3.) Juliana Barwick – Nepthene
Not all that folksy you say? I didn’t have another category to put her in and this record is amazing. I don’t understand how humans make sounds like that. And I don’t get why more humans aren’t more into it.
2.) Mutual Benefit – Love’s Crushing Diamond
Reminds me of early Sufjan. One of the best straight-through listens of the year.
1.) Phosphorescent – Muchacho
Have you heard “Song for Zula?!” Have you heard it?!! Were there other songs on that album? I don’t remember.
I fell in love with this genre this year by stumbling upon Nicolas Jaar’s Essential Mix from last year while at the gym one day. It was a good year to do that too, because this year had some exceptional electronic music to its credit. Here are my favorites:
4.) Haxan Cloak – Excavation
A truly visceral experience. You don’t think this one. You carry it in your body.
3.) The Range – Nonfiction
This may be because it is the most recent release on this list but I just love this one. Great record to work to.
2.) Darkside – Psychic
See my love for Nicolas Jaar above.
1.) Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
I feel like I can walk around in this record. It just gives you an incredible landscape of sound to come explore. Problem is, it’s a dystopian wasteland. Oh well.
This is probably the hardest category to break down. Too many things qualify as “indie” and even then there are too many damn good records to choose from. Here’s what I got:
4.) Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
There’s more here than just “Get Lucky,” and I like the “more” even better than “Get Lucky.” See, for instance, Panda Bear’s wash of harmony on “Doing It Right.”
3.) CHVRCHES – Bones of What You Believe
I was really worried this record would be a single and then nothing but filler. I was so wrong.
2.) Haim – Days Are Gone
Even great dance records don’t make me want to dance in random public places when they come up on my iPod. This one does. Consistently.
1.) Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
They know what they do. They do it better than anyone else. It’s as simple as that.
3.) Danny Brown – Old
I somehow missed Danny Brown before this year. Anybody who collabs with Purity Ring will find their way into my heart. It’s a long one, but worth it.
2.) Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels
Had Vampire Weekend and the #1 album in this list not come out this year then Run the Jewels would’ve been my favorite record of the year. First off it was free. Second off it was the best rap collaboration since Watch the Throne, but it came off as exponentially more authentic. Don’t believe me? Listen to El-P’s verse on “Christmas Fucking Miracle” and tell me there isn’t something incredibly real happening there. Killer Mike proves he’s the new king of Atlanta and if Outkast weren’t reuniting next year (OMG!!!) I’d say this is collaboration for which I’m most excited to see what comes next.
1.) Kanye West – Yeezus
I’m not apologizing. This record is a Frankenstein’s monster. An amalgamation of disgusting and tragic proportions that towers above us, and we tremble at the heights to which the human ego/id/sex drive can ascend. Most people hate Kanye for that. I think most people hate him for it because they think he’s doing it unintentionally, without craft. That isn’t the case. Most people, however, give Kanye too much credit as if he were an incredible mastermind who says outlandish things always intending for them to make a statement. I think sometimes the guy is just a huge dick. But that’s ok. And he’s real about it.
I would tell you that Blood on the Leaves or New Slaves were my favorite track, packed with civil rights era metaphor and throwing light on the new racism bound up in consumerisms auctioning of black bodies (yeah I said auctioning) to sell gold chains, etc. But my real favorite was Hold My Liquor. There I think I connected with what Kanye was doing more so than on any other track. The noise, the ethereal Vernon sample, autotune, and that space those interludes create for us to breathe in all the angst, conflict, and neurosis just floored me.
Couple that with the way he’s doing the live show of this record and there is no way I could not give this album my top spot. Too many good things.
That’s all I got.