Hello readers. You might remember me from my time at the JFP as the writer of the bi-monthly column “The Key of G,” where I covered local and national music, as well as just musing about different topics related to music in general.
One of the things I liked to do was to make top 10 release lists at the end of the given year. While I did enjoy that, I always felt a little disingenuous, because I don’t listen to that much new music; I spend most of my time digging for and listening to old records. Hence, my top 10 lists would barely be made, as I squeezed in a few listens right at the end of the year to go with the few albums from artists that I always check for. Further, I never kept a running list, so my top 10 would have omissions, on top of my already poor sample size. (For instance, I somehow left Robert Glasper’s “Black Radio” off of last year’s list).
But this year has been different. I made it my mission to listen to as many new releases as possible, and to document them. What I have now is a list of 60 new albums that I have listened to and ranked in order. Mind you, this list is not meant to be definitive; there is a lot that I didn’t listen to for several reasons, mainly just because there isn’t enough time in the day to hear everything. I did listen to almost everything from artists that I am a fan of, which is something I have done a poor job of over the years. I also branched out to some artists I never was a fan of before, even though I knew who they were and ignored them on purpose. The results are fairly predictable. I also discovered some new artists I had never heard of at all, which was quite nice in most instances.
So, over the next several weeks, I am going to present you all with a ranked list of the 60 albums I listened to this year. Again, this list is not intended to be definitive at all; it is just a list of what I listened to, ranked solely by my opinions. I am sure there will be some disagreement and head scratching, but some of you might also see some new things that interest you that you go check out. And that’s what it’s all about anyway. Thanks for reading and indulging my opinions.
http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/weblogs/music/2013/nov/18/6o-new-albums-in-2013-60-51/">Click Here for 60-51
50) Arcade Fire “Reflektor” OK, I know I have this album placed way too low. I know that it is probably the greatest album of the year. I get that. While nowhere near as groundbreaking as the fanboys would like us to believe, it is sonically adventurous, taking the listener through many places and genres sometimes within a couple of jarring seconds. As corny as it sounds, they do a good job of mixing the folky, multi-instrumentation that they are known for with the electronic, dance-punk thing people like. I really do dig the music, even if most of the ideas presented in the album have been done already, and way better by other bands for years. But that is the privilege a band gets when they are labeled “best band in the generation” or “this generation’s U2.” You can get away with a lot (Radiohead has been doing for over a decade). But I can’t really speak to that. Before this record, the only time I had even seen or heard this band was a 10 second snippet on a live music channel on TV. I flipped to it and saw a bunch of hipsters playing old timey instruments and jumping around on stage. I immediately turned the channel. It was like my worst dream being played out on the TV screen. So I never paid attention to this band until the hype around this album drew me in. So I listened, and I REALLY wanted to like this album, if for nothing else than to disprove to myself my own stereotypes. But alas, I do not like the record. The music is cool enough, and there are even some really good beats happening. But it is all ruined by the vocals. I don’t know dude’s name (or care) but I cannot stand his voice or the lyrics (both of which are fully opinion based; I know people love both of those things about the band). I’m sorry, I just can’t connect with songs about the angst from growing up in the suburbs in Canada. So, all of this said, this is a fantastic record. I just don’t like it. I don’t like U2 either. But, here’s my two-sentence review, which I am very proud of: “It sounds like Duran Duran with a glockenspiel. And I don’t even know what a glockenspiel is.” That is very funny to me.
49) Foxygen “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic” I heard this record at a buddy’s house and was immediately pulled in by the sunny, happy songs. Really amazing pop songs with great melodies and structure. My friend told me how they are heavily influenced by 60s and 70s psychedelic rock, which I could definitely hear. I downloaded the album the next day and listened a few times. The songs are fun enough (think Ween when they are halfway serious), but these guys definitely overstep the boundaries of “influence.” This album is almost entirely a rip off of the Rolling Stones and any other band from the era that produced decade defining songs. It doesn’t help that I don’t like those bands anyway, but to be presented to me by a couple of young California dudes who look like they have 3 life experiences between them, just doesn’t help the cause. I also hear that their live shows are really raucous, with the singer hitting himself with microphones and berating the crowd. Wow, how original. These guys have talent and songwriting capabilities, I am just interested to hear what they can do if they ever just come up with something novel. It ain’t happening here though.
48) Serengeti “Kenny Dennis LP” My next entry from Anticon comes from Chicago based rapper Serengeti. He’s been doing his thing for over a decade, appearing on various compilations and EPs until Anticon released his solo debut, “Family and Friends,” last year. I love that record, a whole lot. It is so personal and devastating, and WHY? makes perfect beats for that style on that record. “Kenny Dennis,” however, falls way short. It’s not bad by any means, but I find it to be a little too structured (I think there is a concept going on, which I can typically do without) and it comes across as sounding a little forced. His debut didn’t have that at all, so when I want to listen to Serengeti I usually go back to the first one and its stream of consciousness attitude.
47) Random Rab “Release” This is the first of many albums that will be on this list that fall in the realm of deeply psychedelic electronic music. And I don’t mean like “eat a half a hit of acid and listen to Pink Floyd” psychedelic. This is more of a “soundtrack to a 3 week DMT bender in the Amazon” psychedelic. I really like music that challenges our perceptions of reality, and this certainly does. But it is the weakest of the similar releases from this year, mainly due to the vocals (I told you you would get sick of me saying that). Sampled vocals (eh) guest vocals (meh, could do without), and the producer singing his own vocals (yuck!) all take away from the music itself, which is, for the most part, very spacious and grand downtempo numbers. It is OK, but there is a lot better from this year.
46) Daedelus “Drown Out” Another one from Anticon. I was amped about this release. I love the beats he produces: kind of trippy but with a more prominent breakbeat aesthetic, and he tends to be all over the place genre-wise. EDM tracks, next to downtempo head-nodders, alongside 60s sample heavy beats, etc. And that is the problem with this album. While I like the adventurous spirit, the album sounds more like a compilation than a fully formed piece of art. I would love to hear him pick a genre and go with it for one record, to really see what he could do if he dug in. “Drown Out” isn’t bad, but the lack of cohesiveness will probably keep me from listening to this one much in the future.
45) Superchunk “I Hate Music” I had a hard time placing this record. On the one hand, Superchunk is one of those bands from my high school days that I loved immensely, if for nothing else than to sound cool to my friends. (You like Nirvana? Oh, I like Sonic Youth. You like Sonic Youth? Oh, I like Superchunk. Shut up. You all did it too). But after I quit listening to indie rock (late 90s) and Superchunk went on hiatus (2001), I just haven’t paid any attention to them, or really anything from their label, Merge (although I got some Merge stickers from their home city of Chapel Hill last year, earning myself some hipster street cred). So, this album came out of nowhere for me. I listened and I enjoyed it, but just didn’t have the energy to really get into it. It is a Superchunk album, and it sounds like one, which is good, but it also let me ignore it a little bit because I was already familiar with the source ideas. I’ll listen again sometime when I have time to pay better attention.
44) Elton John “The Diving Board” I am a huge fan of Elton John’s output from the 70s, but really haven’t paid much attention to anything else. His artistic credibility is through the roof, so he can get away with doing just about anything he damn well pleases. That can mean making Disney soundtracks or it can mean charging hundreds of dollars for a concert to see him play said Disney songs. It can also mean stripping it all down and writing new songs for a three-piece band, like he does on “Diving Board.” There is a tendency to think that this is a return to his older stuff, but that’s not really true. I think is harkens back to a simpler time when he could write songs that were a little more barren, but the music here is fresh. I place it this low because it just didn’t have anything that makes me want to listen over and over again. Enjoyable, but nothing too outrageous. I am sure there are plenty of people who love this a lot more than me, and that makes me happy. Also, Raphael Saadiq plays bass on the record, so there are some instant cool points.
43) Oneohtrix Point Never “R Plus Seven” This is another album from an artist I wasn’t familiar with until this year. Oneohtrix Point Never is the stage name of Daniel Lopatin, a Brooklyn based experimental electronic music composer. What Lopatin does is use pre-set sounds from old synthesizers (mainly from the 80s) that were used in mostly commercial applications (think car commercials and background music for corporate training videos) to create new soundscapes. The inclination with this approach might be to create ambient music heavy on the bleeps, sweeps, and creeps. However, Lopatin does a really great job of implementing his sampling palette in a way that allows him to create fully formed songs, with melodies, builds, breakdowns, and everything else we expect from EDM. This is a really cool album, but for me, the novelty wore off after a couple of listens and what sounded like a good idea at first listen started to sound like an irony laced work that was limited by the artist’s desire to restrain himself to one source when looking for samples.
42) A$AP Ferg “Trap Lord” I took a very circuitous path to get to this album. A$AP Ferg is part of a crew called the A$AP Mob. The first rapper who I had heard of from the Mob was A$AP Rocky. I completely ignored this guy because of his name. Not because I though it was stupid (which I do), but because it reads as a direct bite of another rapper named Aesop Rock (you’ll read more about him at the top of the list). Sometimes, one just ignores something for reasons only they understand and can explain. I figured this guy was just a joke rapper, based on nothing other than my own intuition. I was flabbergasted to find out that A$AP Rocky, and the rest of the Mob, where artists that people took seriously. So, when Ferg dropped “Trap Lord” this year, and I saw the positive reviews, I gave it a listen. I ended up giving it a lot of listens, actually. You see, I love heady, intelligent, conscious hip hop, but I just as much love well done, somewhat intelligent trap hip hop (you can call it gangsta, I guess). “Trap Lord” is exactly that. It goes from straight up sexist boasts about women, to a little political wrangling, to praising various drugs all within a few minutes. It has what you want in a good trap album and a little more. The beats are dark and a little on the heavy side, but that is what he needs to set him apart from the pop stardom of A$AP Rocky, while still holding down his place in the collective.
41) R.A. the Rugged Man “Legends Never Die” I’ll never forget the first time I heard R.A. the Rugged Man. The song was called “Flipside” and it was featured on 1997’s “Soundbombing,” the first of a series of compilations from Rawkus Records, the home of 90s independent hip hop (it spawned the careers of Mos Def and Talib Kweli, amongst many others). On that song, R.A. raps: “They snakes in this rap field, f*** the fat deal/Cap peeled, how does chokin' on the smoke from the gat feel?/The Rugged Man, record label suicide, move aside.” Delivered in a gruff, white boy voice, the song was just so hard and embodied the indie rap aesthetic so well. But those words “record label suicide” would end up being prophetic: after a major label scramble to sign R.A., word has it at least 9 labels and imprints were involved, he bounced around from label to label, leaving two unreleased albums in the wake and countless years of his career lost. What looked like a promising career turned into 2 albums in the span of 9 years (2004 and 2013) and a lot of people like me simply forgetting the guy we once really dug. Had it not been for one of my true believer 90s hip hop friends, I probably wouldn’t have even heard this album. But I am glad I did. It is pretty solid; it has R.A.’s signature braggadocio flows and his patented self deprecation (there aren’t many other rappers that can so eloquently remind us of his shortcomings). I have enjoyed listening to it several times, but it does get a little repetitive. Not to take anything away from the talent level of R.A., but the creativity just isn’t there for the most part and that keeps it a little low on the list.