Monday, March 17, 2014

BRL 2013 Year in Review (Part 4 - The Grand Finale)

...And finally, the top 10:

10. Drake – Nothing Was the Same (81)

I was sort of surprised how highly this album ranked. In a stronger year for music, this probably wouldn't have placed in the top ten, but that also doesn't take away from the many strong qualities of Drake's third LP. Nothing Was the Same is a far cry from Take Care, both in sound and quality, but was still one of the year's most exciting records. 
09. The Weeknd – Kiss Land (81)

It seems like there's a general consensus that The Weeknd's major debut LP is his weakest project to date. In fact, remember all of those "Top Albums of 2013" lists that you read 3 months ago? Hardly any of them included Kiss Land, let alone having it in the top 10. But here's the thing, this is The Weeknd's most focused effort yet, and his songwriting has improved tremendously. The hype,  uniqueness and mysteriousness of his House of Balloons era of the Canadian singer has long-since passed, and I will also concede that production-wise, this is his least interesting sounding record. But his ability to tell a story throughout this record, while also pushing the boundaries of modern R&B, is proof that The Weeknd is more than a flash in the pan type artist.

08. Terrace Martin – 3ChordFold (81)

Terrace Martin's 3ChordFold is easily 2013's Cinderella story. I recognized Martin's name from several production credits he's accumulated over the years, but never checked out any of his solo projects. I don't remember why I was inclined to check this album out, but I'm glad I did. A perfect blend of hip hop and modern jazz, made for one of the best produced albums of the year.

07. HAIM – Days Are Gone (82.5)

Kid Cudi's Indicud album, which was released in April 2013, was for the most part a pretty forgettable record. One notable song from the album was a track called "Red Eye," which served as my introduction to the Haim sisters. Since then, I've seen their name pop up left and right, and how they were destined to be one of the most exciting new bands of the year. I missed a chance to see them at Lollapalooza back in August (their set was during Local Natives and The National, neither of whom I wanted to miss), which was a bummer because their debut album Days Are Gone more than lived up to the hype. It's easily one of the funnest albums to come out all year, and is just plain, good old fashion pop music.

06. Black Milk – No Poison, No Paradise (83)

In 2013, Detroit set a record for becoming the largest American city ever to file for bankruptcy. For a long time, Detroit has seen a great amount of struggle with a dying automobile industry leading a once prominent city into poverty. And on Black Milk's fourth album, No Poison, No Paradise, the Detroit beatsmith/rapper paints a very vivid picture of what it is like to grow up in such a place. While Danny Brown also did an excellent job of describing Detroit's plight on tracks like "Wonderbread" and "Torture," Black Milk tells a story of "a decent kid to doing a bid"over the course of a full album. It's the Detroit version of goodkid m.A.A.d. city and it's the perfect autumn album.

05. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (87.5)

I didn't play Daft Punk's long awaited Random Access Memories in its entirety until December of last year. Initially I was so absorbed by "Get Lucky," which is the perfect pop song and is probably this decade's "Hey Ya." Slowly I was getting introduced to new songs from the album that I would fall in love with, until I finally decided to sit down and play the whole thing through. And damnit, if this album isn't brilliant. The robots showed off their human side by making dance album made up of live instruments instead of synthesizers and bringing back some disco vibes. RAM is a meticulously crafted masterpiece that may not hit you immediately, but when it does it will become one of your favorites. 

04. Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap (88)

By the end of 2013, Chance the Rapper pretty much cemented himself as the next big thing in hip hop. He toured with Eminem and appeared on a Justin Beiber single, but it all started with his stellar sophomore mixtape. It'll be very interesting to see what he does next; does he sign to a major or go the solo route? Regardless I'm very certain that Acid Rap is just the beginning.

03. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City (88.5)

Vampire Weekend, along with bands like The Shins and MGMT, is one of those essential "college bands" whose music always takes me back to dorm rooms and stale beer. Their self-titled debut album was one of my favorite albums as a Freshman in college, and their sophomore effort was a favorite as a sophomore too. But the main issue with both of those albums is that despite their intoxicating melodies and fun grooves, they sort of lacked the type of substance that requires repeated listens. But with Ezra Koenig and company's third effort, that all changed. Modern Vampires wasn't as instantly gratifying as its predecessors, but much of the album is what I would consider a slow burn. "Hudson" and "Hannah Hunt" are some of the most stripped down and vulnerable songs that Koenig has ever written, but they also may be among his best. While a lot of the album deals with heavy themes such as mortality and religion, there are still some classic Vampire Weekend bangers like "Diane Young," "Step" and "Everlasting Arms."

02. Kanye West – Yeezus (88.5)

What can I say about Kanye and this album that I haven't already? I am an unabashed Kanye Stan, and I think Yeezus is an exceptional piece of music. Many people disagree, and I understand why people wouldn't be into this; it's not music made to please everybody. In fact it's intentionally abrasive to evoke strong feelings from the listener - be those feelings positive or negative. But it's also just a lot of fun to listen to. This is Kanye's worst moment from a lyrical standpoint (although I don't think he was striving to rap like Nas on this record), but that doesn't stop it from being one of the most quotable albums I've heard in a while. With My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye achieved perfection. This is Kanye's flawed masterpiece.

01. The National – Trouble Will Find Me (90.5)

The major life event for me in 2013 was my move from Ohio to Chicago. The National's Trouble Will Find Me was released about a month and a half prior to my move. So this album is held in high regards partially due to the fact that it was the soundtrack of those final nights with my good friends in Ohio. But this album is the top of 2013 mainly because it features my current favorite band at the top of their game. Matt Berninger is rock music's best lead man and his songwriting continues to get better with each release. And the Dessner and Devendorf brothers' production and instrumentation has also continued to improve, as they find a way to combine the somberness of High Violet and the more upbeat, straight forward rocking of Alligator, while still creating a cohesive record.

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