Thursday, February 27, 2014

BRL 2013 Year in Review (Part 1)

Once again BRL is back with its end of the year list, at the end of February. I’ve decided that this is now an intentional thing that I do (even though it totally isn’t). You see, every year starting around December 2nd, the good folks who browse the Internet get bombarded with every sort of end-of-the-year list imaginable. If those people are anything like me, they love these lists. They love reading them. They love smirking when they’re totally fucking wrong. They getting excited when the list agrees with their opinion of an underrated album. They frantically search for music on these lists that they are unfamiliar with. I understand these people. I am these people.
But what if I told you that the end-of-the-year list doesn’t have to just be a December/super early January event? What if I told you that you can read such a list, and it still be equally relevant at is was two months ago? My laziness/tardiness aside, I think a list of such can be equally useful in February as it is in December (or at least that’s what I’m going to convince you). By now you’ve read every list and you’re probably sick of them. Well, I don’t give a damn. You’re going to read this list and like it because unlike the other lists, this one is correct. (Actually, I think I might disagree with some of this, even though I made it. Opinions on music tend to change constantly, so no rating system is perfect.)

Over the past five or so years, I've assembled a way to calculate albums on a 1-100 scale. There are 10 categories, which I consider important aspects that a great album will have, and they are worth up to 10 points each. These categories include:

* Replay Value (How often I want to go back and listen to this album again)
* Vocal Performance (Mind you, I rate non-hip hop albums on this scale as well. This category essentially means how good is the rapping: rhyme scheme, flows, etc.)
* Production (Are the beats dope or nah?)
* Subject Matter (Is there a decent amount of topics or angles for songs on the album?)
* Songwriting (I don't have a lyric category because good lyricism can mean many different things. For multis, punchlines and technical prowess, you get points in the Vocal Performance category. Songwriting includes structure, hooks, etc.)
* Cohesion (do the songs flow well in order? Is there a common theme?)
* Originality (does this album bring something different to the table?)
* Popular Influence (how did this album affect popular culture? Yes this category gives an advantage to mainstream artists, but if an album can do everything else effectively, but on a bigger scale, I believe it deserves more points than an artist who isn't reaching many people)
* Personal Influence (how did this album reflect my personal life in 2013?)
* Gut Reaction (How did I feel about this album the first few times I heard it?)
When you see the scores, try to refrain from the school-style of grading (ie: 90-100 = A, etc.) because it is very difficult for an album to get a perfect 10 in a category (for reference, Kendrick Lamar's good kid, mAAd city received a 95 last year, which is the highest an album has ever gotten since making this system). To give you a point of reference, an album that I would give an 8.5 on the RapReviews scale would probably get around an 80 on mine. For tie breakers, I chose the album with higher Personal Influence, then Replay Value, then Popular Influence, then Gut Reaction.
50. James Blake – Overgrown (69.5)
49. Vic Mensa – Innanettape (69.5)
 This is a mixtape that probably would've been higher on the list, had I more time with it. I made the unfortunate mistake of sleeping on Mensa because "he sounds too much like Chance the Rapper." Which isn't necessarily untrue, their voices/cadences are nearly identical, but Chance even admitted that it was a style birthed by Mensa. Chicago has a lot of young talent, and it will be exciting to watch it reach its potential in the next few years.
48. Imperial & KINETIK – Pencils, Not Pistols (70)
47. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time (70)
46. Various Artists – The Great Gatsby OST (70.5)
 Yeah, the movie was kind of a bloated mess, but there were some wonderful moments, musically. (Of course we aren't talking about the scenes where people are dancing to Watch the Throne in the 1920s.) This is one of the better soundtracks I've heard in a few years, with excellent songs from Jack White, Lana Del Rey, Jay-Z (his song on this soundtrack was better than most of his album), The xx, and hell, even Fergie dropped a banger.
45. Ghostface Killah & Apollo Brown – 12 Reasons to Die: The Brown Tape (71)
44. CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe (71)
43. J. Cole – Born Sinner (71)
42. Oddisee – Tangible Dream (72.5)
41. Neko Case – The Worse Things Get… (72.5)
40. Jahshua Smith – The Final Season (73.5)
39. Childish Gambino - …beacuase the internet (73.5)
Donald Glover still has some work to do, in terms of finding his own "rapper voice." On his debut he either sounded like someone rapping who didn't know how to rap, or someone doing a Lil Wayne impression. On his much improved sophomore effort, he again sounds like he's doing impressions of various rappers, but this time the writing is much better. The production, concept and lyrics are very good on this record. Glover has potential to be a great rapper, but he's still got a ways to go.
38. Arcade Fire – Reflektor (74)
In 2013 I finally decided that I do not like Arcade Fire. It might have nothing to do with Win Butler and company; it very well could be that Funeral and The Suburbs were played on a loop for two months at my place of work. But I think it might have a little something to do with them, and Reflektor is indicative of everything I dislike about them.
For starters, Win Butler is an incredibly uncharismatic front man. Several times throughout the course of this record, he tries so hard to be James Murphy, the album's producer/a legitimately cool front man for a good/likable band. Arcade Fire is an immensely talented group of musicians, but for every time I find myself tapping my foot to a grove, there's a moment I shake my head at how obnoxiously pretentious they are.
All that being said, Reflektor is a good record. It's entirely too long, but there are quite a few good songs on here that get better with more plays. But it's also an exhausting record. It's annoyingly good. It's so good that I still have to include it on my list, despite my complete disdain for it.

37. Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge (74)
36.  A$AP Rocky – LongLiveA$AP (74.5)
35. Built to Fade – To Dust (74.5)
34. Tyler, the Creator – Wolf (75)
33. Lorde – Pure Heroine (75)
32. Natti (of CunninLynguists) – Still Motion (75)
31. Volcano Choir – Repave (75.5)

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