Monday, March 10, 2014

BRL 2013 Year in Review (Part 3)

20. Danny Brown – Old (79)
To say Danny Brown's Old was a disappointment, would be an understatement, considering it was one of the most lyrically dexterous albums all year. But following 2011's breakthrough, XXX, Brown's follow up seems a little bit like a let down. He delves further into the EDM sound that he has been experimenting with, but that's not the issue here. He again splits his album off into two sections: the more dark and gritty tracks and the more upbeat and sexual cuts. This time it doesn't have the same effect as it did on XXX, but that's not really the issue either. The real issue is that the hype that Danny Brown amassed in the two years since his last album led to unrealistically high expectations, that it was nearly impossible for the Detroit spitter to live up to.
19. The Uncluded – Hokey Fright (79)
This was one of the more bizarre releases of the year. Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson, despite being pretty much total opposites, found a way to make a great album together. Uncluded featured Aesop, whose music is often complex, loud and sort of ugly sounding, meeting halfway with Dawson, whose music is often simple, soft and sweet sounding. Aesop sounded great rapping over Dawson's acoustic guitar, and Aesop's songwriting is easier to take in with Dawson's straight foward lyrics (best example: "Delicate Cycle").
18. Mac Miller – Watching Movies with the Sound Off (79)
 Another surprise last year was the vast improvement of Mac Miller. I saw glimpses of his potential in his unfairly panned debut, and had high hopes for his second full-length, Watching Movies with the Sound Off, but was blown away when I heard it. It was released on hip hop's most eventful release date of the year, and was initially ignored by many folks (including myself), it managed to be a much more interesting release than J. Cole's album and a much more lyrically enlightening release than Kanye's release.
17. Run the Jewels (Killer Mike & El-P) – Run the Jewels (79)
Killer Mike and El-P now have hip hop's best bromance, so it was natural that they'd release an album together. Their chemistry is undeniable, and their self-titled debut is exactly what you would want out of such a release: lighthearted, impeccable raps, neck snapping beats, and a ton of fun. Word is that they're working on a follow up, which I hope offers a little more in terms of subject matter, but the first Run the Jewels record is a perfect summer album.
16. Pusha T – My Name is My Name (79)
Pusha T's long-awaited album didn't come without its share of setbacks. After a couple of lukewarm mixtapes, my expectations began to wane, but after hearing lead single "Numbers on the Board" I knew Push was about to release an excellent project. Despite all of its pushed back release dates, I think October was the perfect time for this dark, cynical album to come out. 
15. Tegan & Sara – Heartthrob (79)
This was an album I only checked out because it was January/February and there was nothing else to listen to. Heartthrob was the first full album I've heard from the indie pop duo, and it was a fantastic introduction. This album has been in rotation for most of the year, with its great pop melodies and poignant songwriting.
14. Gilbere Forte – PRAY (79)
This was an album that I was surprised to see how badly it flew under the radar. Easily one of my favorite hip hop releases of last year damn near went unnoticed by essentially every major hip hop publication. PRAY sounds like a drunken summer night, and Gilbere Forte raps with the intensity of a Royce da 5'9" over Drake-style production.
13. Local Natives – Hummingbird (80)
The Local Natives' second album, much like Tegan & Sara's Heartthrob, stayed in rotation for most of 2013, thanks to being released early on in the year. But unlike Heartthrob, and the band's debut album, there is nothing immediate about Hummingbird. This album is a slow burn, but you'll be glad you came back for more. Well, maybe not glad. More likely mildly depressed because this album is a bit of a downer. "Heavy Feet" is not only one of my favorite songs of the year, but also the most gut wrenchingly depressing.
12. Red Pill & Hir-O – The Kick (80)
Sometime towards the end of 2012, I received an email from a fellow Okay Player and respected music writer about an artist that he managed. The song he sent me hit me immediately and it quickly became one of my favorites. I posted about the song, "Waiting on a Train" and then was given a copy of Red Pill & Hir-O's The Kick. The album took a little while to grow on me - mainly because "Waiting  on a Train" was so excellent, I couldn't stop playing it. But when The Kick finally sunk in, I knew these two relatively unknown cats from the Detroit area were something special. Red Pill teamed up with Apollo Brown and Verbal Kent for Ugly Heroes, while Hir-O has been producing for several other emcees including Greenlee, but I think they have a phenomenal chemistry together. I am excited to see what they come up with next.
11. Arctic Monkeys – AM (80.5)
The Arctic Monkeys is a band I've always meant to check out, but never got around to doing so. Finally I was sucked in this year by their amusingly titled "Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?" and from there I was hooked. AM is packed with blues riffs, excellent songwriting, and a whole lot of sense of humor. Alex Turner has become one of my favorite lead singers, and the Arctic Monkeys made the best blues record since the Black Keys' Brothers.

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