So many albums, so little time…
#11 Local Natives-Hummingbird (Spotify)
The departure of a band member can crush some acts, but Local Natives persevered with the help of The National’s Aaron Dessner. Dessner’s production helped the Cali crew in making their harmonies sound even lusher with grander instrumentation and darker tones. “Wooly Mammoth” echoed the song title with brasher percussion, while “Three Months” added organ to the soundscape. While much of Hummingbird delves into cloudier topics, optimism pushes forward on cuts like “Breakers” and “You and I” with spirited vocals from Kelcey Ayers and Taylor Rice. Dessner’s contribution really just added another layer to Local Native’s near perfect formula.
#12 Drake-Nothing Was The Same (Spotify)
While Drake’s contemporaries (primarily Kanye, Jay-Z) ventured into experimentation, hip-hop/R&B’s other royal smartly stuck to his hybrid formula of pop/hip-hop/r&B. Nothing Was The Same’s production credits followed the mantra of “no new friends” by continuing his winning partnership Noah “40” Shebib. “Tuscan Leather” stands as one of the best album openers of the year as Drizzy flexes bravado over a beat that surprises and evolves over 6 minutes. The pride on “Started From The Bottom” may have pushed hashtag rap over the edge, but it and “Worst Behavior” probably saw more success than any of the radio singles bigger hip-hop names could muster. “Hold On We’re Going Home” served as a synthpop/R&B cocktail easily digestable over repeat listenings and one of the biggest singles of 2013. Drake is right in that things are changing in hip-hop, but he can comfortably stick with his blueprint. You might even say Jay-Z passed the torch to Drake on their collaboration “Pound Cake”.
#13 Daft Punk-Random Access Memories (Spotify)
The robots returned and the world rejoiced. This wasn’t the same Daft Punk from Spring Break 2001 though. The French duo who had influenced so many electronic acts of today decided to pay tribute to the musicians that influenced them (Giorgio Moroder, Niles Rogers). Daft Punk’s backstroke into disco may not have been with what many hoped for, but it was a welcome surprise to my ears. The robots took the time to make people dance, of course (“Get Lucky”, “Doin’ It Right”, “Lose Yourself To Dance”), but also showed heartbreak (“The Game of Love”, “Instant Crush”) and chilled out instrumentals (“Motherboard”, “Horizon”). I’m excited to see what era Daft Punk tackles next and Pharrell is definitely invited.
#14 Mikal Cronin-MCII (Spotify)
If Lord Huron’s Lonesome Dreams was meant for long, reflective road trips in 2012, Mikal Cronin’s latest album was meant for windows down, stereo at max volume, cross country journeys in 2013. MCII encompassed elements of garage (“Change”), Americana (“Am I Wrong”) and indie rock (“See It My Way”) while maximizing hooks that you’ll be singing for days on end. I played “Weight” and “Shout It Out” consistently, but the entire effort was built for multiple, consecutive listens.
#15 Arctic Monkeys-AM (Spotify)
Album number five for Arctic Monkeys made me think The Black Keys might have had an inspiring effect on the Sheffield lads during their recent tour. Either way, the blues and garage rock licks on “Do I Wanna Know”’ and “R U Mine?” align with crashing percussion and Alex Turner’s snarling vocals. “One For The Road” shines with call and response type backing, while “Arabella” borrows Black Sabbath influenced riffs. Luckily, the retro sound also pairs perfectly with Turner’s penchant for dark tales, particularly on the hilarious narrative “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” and balladry of “No. 1 Party Anthem”.
#16 M.I.A.-Matangi (Spotify)
The guise of M.I.A. as a political artist was removed way before she graced the Grammy stage with the biggest names in hip-hop. Matangi doesn’t dive in controversial waters (unless you count half-hearted jabs at the term “YOLO” on “Y.A.L.A.” ), but it does show the fun side of M.I.A.. The album largely serves as a party starter with banging drums (“Bad Girls”, “Only 1 U”) and production largely from Switch (“Bring The Noise”, “Matangi”). Throughout the album, sounds of Hinduism are cleverly juxtaposed as warning calls (“Warriors”) and attention grabbers (“Come Walk With Me”). M.I.A.’s lack of a platform doesn’t mean she lost her relevance, it just means she is relevant in a different light.
#17 Bombino-Nomad (Spotify)
Taureg act Bombino hooked me instantly with rhythmic, guitar wizardry on “Amidinine”, but I had no idea what the narrator was describing. As I said in April, “The prospect of analyzing an album in a foreign language seemed like a lofty task, but Bombino’s passion and emotion on Nomad made for an excellent auditory lesson.” Thankfully, the album had translated lyrics in the liner notes, so I didn’t have to use Google translations too often. If you think foreign language albums aren’t your thing, Dan Auerbach’s production and Bombino’s guitar excellence is universally amazing.
#18 Pusha T-My Name Is My Name (Spotify)
Veteran rhyme slinger Pusha T’s first solo album was delayed over and over, but was well worth the wait when it was finally released in October. The output had similar street narratives to Pusha’s celebrated Clipse albums, but My Name Is My Name carried a necessary edge of confidence and anger. Under the bigger spotlight, Pusha boasted, toasted and delivered some of the hardest raps of any emcee in 2013. A cast of production heavyweights like Swizz Beatz (“Sweet Serenade”), Nottz (“Nosetalgia”), Hudson Mohawke (“No Regrets”) and primary producer Kanye West diversified Pusha’s sound. Tracks like West-produced “Numbers On The Board” and clever closer “S.N.I.T.C.H.” expertly placed Pusha T’s wordplay over sparse beats and put his rhymes at the forefront. While I usually prefer my Thorton brothers as a duo, Pusha T proved his leading man potential.
#19 Portugal.the Man-Evil Friends (Spotify)
West coast rockers Portugal.the Man didn’t need the full Danger Mouse makeover to assemble a concise, replay-able album, but the assistance didn’t hurt. The psychedelic rock feel of the record balanced earworm hooks on track after track. Lead singer’s John Baldwin Gourley’s vocals were already reminiscent of Foster the People’s Mark Foster, but tracks like “ Modern Jesus“, “Hip Hop Kids“ and “Atomic Man” sound like a smarter FTP on LSD.
#20 A$AP Rocky-Long.Live.A$AP (Spotify)
While January may seem like an eternity ago, we must not forget 2013 had great music all year long. A$AP Rocky may be more of a talented curator than a gifted rapper, but Long.Live.A$AP was an engaging collection that kicked of a big year in hip-hop. Guest appearances by Kendrick Lamar, Skrillex, Santigold and SchoolBoy Q feel welcome and not forced. “1 Train” should live on as one of the most underrated cyphers ever, with seemingly every rapper labeled as hip-hop’s future featured (Kendrick won though). Rocky’s greatest strength is that he doesn’t feel the pigeon-holed to NY hip-hop tropes. He diversified his sound with everyone from Jim Jonsin (“Long.Live.A$AP”) to Danger Mouse (“Phoenix”) and Hit-Boy (“Goldie”, “1 Train”), which made for a well rounded effort that touches everything from trap rap to chopped and screwed influences.