Best Albums of 2013

10 Beyoncé- Beyoncé

I like the fanfare around this album. It’s also just a good album. She’s talented, hot, and cool. What is there to hate? I also like her husband (see #8). I generally enjoy collaborations, and she does them well, especially on Superpower, with Frank Ocean (but I pretty much like anything he does). The album feels so intimate, like she is really telling us what happens with Jay Z when the cameras are off, which is partially “eeeeewwww” and partially enthralling (especially in Drunk in Love). You go girl.

9 Justin Timberlake– The 20/20 Experience

Put this album on in the background, and you will be dancing around your office for real (or you know, your apartment, your bed, the street, etc.) This album is for lovers, and every song a love song. An epic long love song. Even such frivolous songs as Don’t Hold the Wall (a love song about dancing in the middle of the dance floor, not up against a wall),  and Spaceship Coupe (a love song in space: “Hop into my spaceship coupe.There’s only room for two (Me and you)/And with the top down/We’ll cruise around/Land and make love on the moon/Would you like that?”) are not only dancey and catchy, but actually kind of sweet. The highlight for me, and one of the longest odes of love, Pusher Love Girl. 8 Minutes. A (simulated) Orchestra. A sweet tune in the beginning, and a mean beat at the end. It’s like 3 songs in one. It’s love.

8 Jay-ZMagna Carta Holy Grail

This album was not universally loved. Critics were rough.  But what can I say? Bye haters. While I do think Jay didn’t try hard enough on this one (it seems sloppy in parts, not innovative enough, simple at times, maybe safe) it’s still more amazing than 90% of the music out there. I do hate the whole deal Jay made with Samsung, but what can I say> He’s not just a “Business Man” he’s “a Business, Man!” I digress. The title track is cool, but I especially liked Oceans (featuring Frank Ocean- see #10)  Tom Ford, and Picasso Baby. In Picasso Baby, Jay evokes the greats Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, Jeff Koons, Francis Bacon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Andy Warhol) and thinks he  can become (or actually becomes?) a visual artist in doing so. His MoMA performance of this song was dope, and you can’t tell me otherwise. His confidence is what makes this album what it is. He’s has it all an he knows it.

7 King Krule6 Feet Beneath the Ground

King Krule. What a weirdo. What an amazing weirdo. The album opens up with Easy Easy (“Ow no I should’ve kept my receipts/Cause the sandwich I bought/Yeah it’s been off for a week/And Tesco’s stealing my money/When positivity seems hard to reach”)-Which I think is maybe more accessible than some of the other tracks on the album. The melody is so cool, the hook pretty catchy. But it’s not the only good stuff on here, his creaky, raspy, deep voice, juxtaposed to a 19 year old red head, full of 19 year old red head issues, it’s just amazing. Sadly I missed his show a few weeks ago, due to something or other. But that for sure won’t happen again.

6 James Blake- Overgrown 

This album is haunting. This is where my interest in electronic music meets my love for sad singer song writers. Retrograde is so perfect, I can’t even tell you. The simple beat, the airy melody, the words (“I’ll wait/So show me why you’re strong/Ignore everybody else,/We’re alone now”) It builds up, it lets you down. It’s a trip. Even Take a Fall for Me, which features RZA, and Pitchfork called sub-par- I like. Yes the rap seems clunky over the music, but whatever man. Who else is doing this kind of stuff? No one. That’s who.

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

If Chance the Rapper tackles angst of growing up through the eyes of a 20 year old, Trouble Will Find Me is all of the sadness of disappearing youth from a 40 year old’s perspective. Matt Bernginer is a tortured soul. I like many songs on this album, especially Fireproof “You’re fireproof/Nothing breaks your heart/You’re fireproof/It’s just the way you are” and especially I Need My Girl, but that is because I am such a sentimental shmuck (“Remember when you said/I’m sorry/To the vines and no one saw it/I’ll try to call you from the party/It’s full of punks and cannonballers/I need my girl”)- this album has something fore every shade of blue.

4 Major Lazer- Free the Universe 

I am not even joking. a) Mad Decent Block Party was by FAR the best show I went to this year and b) this album has the best dance music of the year. I listen to this in the morning when I am getting ready, I listen to this at the gym, I listen to this before going out, I listen to this EVERYWHERE. From the mellow and personally long awaited Jessica (featuring Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend), the beautiful and tender “Get Free” (featuring Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors) to the righteous “Jah No Partial” (featuring Flux Pavilion) this album has something for everything (who likes dance hall). Bumaye Comrades.

3 Vampire Weekend- Modern Vampires of the City

While the last Vampire Weekend albums were pretty much exclusively fun (still bookish and quirky) Modern Vampires of the City is much more adult, complex, grounded, wordy, worldy. Interesting questions of religion (Ya Hey, Worship You, Unbelievers) and love/broken hearts  (“Hannah Hunt”, “Everlasting Arms”) wrapped up in super catchy beats and melodies. I like this stuff because it’s pop music. But it’s not thoughtless.

2 Chance the Rapper- Acid Rap

This is his second EP, and I think I like every song on it. It’s psychedelic-happy-hip-hop. It’s young and fresh and vulnerable. Chance is terrified of becoming an adult, as we might all be, but addresses the issue in such a childlike way, it’s endearing. The title track has a killer melody, and some interesting drum beats in the back.  He really nails it when he talks about the ennui of growing up:

“I miss my diagonal grilled cheeses
And back when Mike Jackson was still Jesus
Before, I believed in not believing in
Yeah, I inhaled, who believed in me not breathing in
Cigarette stained smile all covered in sin”

Favorite Song and Cocoa Butter Kisses are so catchy, you won’t be able to get them out of your head. And you won’t want to.

1 Kanye West- Yeezus

I didn’t think anything could be better than Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but this is definitely coming very close. The electro beats are flawless, his rapping is interesting,this album is the future. If the Jetsons listened to rap music, they would listen to Yeezus. Bound 2, is a one of the most beautiful love songs I have ever (“I know you’re tired of loving, of loving/With nobody to love, nobody, nobody/Just grab somebody, no leaving this party/With nobody to love, nobody, nobody (Uh-huh, honey)”. Also, Blood on the Leaves, with those old eerie Strange Fruit bits, dissected by harsh lyrics, that at first glance have so little to do with the baseline samples, is pretty amazing.

All in all, this will be a staple for many eons to come.

Because There Is Always More: Favorite Songs of 2012

I know, I know, I already did a Best Albums of 2012 top ten, but I realized that there are a lot of songs out there that I listened to on repeat- orphan songs that didn’t belong to any albums (or albums I didn’t like, or albums I didn’t know). But they too deserve a spot. Its actually pretty hard to find my favorite songs that aren’t already on my album top 10 list– so I give you 8. If you feel like I missed one, please air your grievances in the comment section.

8- Skrillex- Bangarang

Ah, Skrillex. You and your asymmetrical hairdo. I remember early this year thinking: I wonder what Skrillex sounds like (besides wub wub) and I got hooked on this song. I suppose Bangarang (the EP) was technically released late 2011, but whose really checking. Bangarang is an awesome word, which I have tried to bring into common vocabulary for months. It comes, not as you might believe from the movie Hook with his little hottie Roofio screaming it across Neverland, but instead, from the Jamaican word meaning hubub, which is just as well. Drum and bass at its finest, with a crazy little video. Ahh. its so good.

7- Gotye ft. Kimbra- Somebody That I Used To Know

The second I heard this song for the first time, blasting through someone’s car window on my street, it was everywhere: commercials, every TV shows, every pop-culture reference, the radio, memes, life. It’s pop perfection.

So I asked myself, why is this a song we can all agree on loving? What is it about this song that makes it universally loveable? Maybe its the dramatic breakdowns, with Kimbra’s voice really grabbing a hold of the listener’s emotions. Maybe its the fact that the whole song sounds like Sting- but I know that isn’t what makes it universally appealing.

Perhaps its the theme, breakups. Everyone knows what that is like. I know what you will say: that can’t be it, my scientific research shows approximately 50% of songs are about breakups. So why is this song so special?

Somebody That I Used To Know  is sad enough to let you wallow in self pity,  but cheerful enough to let you see the light at the end of the tunnel. Its that song you listen to a few months PB (post breakup) that tells you both “I am going to stay in bed for 3 days eating nothing but Chunky Monkey ice cream while watching Downton Abbey” and “Get your tush out that door, and into that dance club, you’ve got some flirting to do.” This song is so perfect, because believe it or not, its complicated enough to encompass a range of emotions. Plus its groovy. And that is what I have to say about that.

6- Japandroids- The House That Heaven Built

I would play this song if I had a big race to run. Or a boxing match. Or before I would kick my nemesis’  ass. Or tell an evil boss to go shove it. Or tell the guy I have a crush on that I want to have his babies. Its like a pep-talk, in a song. Somebody described this as Rocky Balboa with a little bit of punk rock. I can’t disagree. The Canadian band Japandroids is just making appearance on my musical horizon, I imagine there will be more to come.

5- First Aid Kit- Emmylou

Duh. I don’t actually know why I didn’t put the whole album in my top ten. The Lion’s Roar was actually quite spectacular. I think maybe what I felt was that it starts out strong- from the title track to the 4th or 5th song- then I start losing interest. Emmylou is a sweet love song with an interesting melody, sung by Swedish sister’s who consider the Fleet Foxes and Joanna Newsom (WHAT?!) as their influences (who can say no to that). Drunken Trees, and the Big Black and the Blue, their previous albums, are also really lovely. Nothing like a good old fashioned love song to lift your spirits, especially one that evokes great rock ‘n roll couples of times long gone.

4- Macklemore and Ryan Lewis-  Can’t Hold Us

I first heard about this guy when his video for Same Love went viral. A hip-hop song supporting gay marriage? Can’t go wrong with that. Then, when his NPR Tiny Desk Concert came out, everything blew up. Macklemore-mania. While I like most of the songs on his debut album, The Heist, the collection as a whole is a  little bit too unrefined for me. Its not that I don’t understand that many songs these days revolve around money and “ladies,” but it is his slightly joking tone that gets me. He doesn’t seem to take too much seriously.

Let me explain: One entire song is dedicated to his Nike Airs (“I touched the net, Momma I touched the net, this is the best day of my life/ Air Max’s was next”- Wing$) and a whole other one dedicated to Thrift Shopping (“hey be like, “Oh, that/ Gucci – that’s hella tight.”/ I’m like, “Yo – that’s fifty dollars for a T-shirt.”/ Limited edition, let’s do some simple addition/ Fifty dollars for a T-shirt – that’s just some ignorant bitch (shit)”) which is all very cute and catchy, but I just don’t get it. Not completely at least.

Perhaps it his attempt to analyze consumerism among urban youth, and take down the whole capitalist cobweb we are all entangled in, but perhaps not. It just seems that these topics are more serious than Mr. Macklemore gives them credit for.

But I digress. Maybe simple is good. Like in Make the Money, where he says: “Make the money, don’t let the money make you/ Change the game, don’t let the game change you.” Also this song, Can’t Hold Us  is absolutely one of my favorites this year. The beat is uplifting, with LOVELY vocals accompanying the rhyme. I put this song on and my walk turns into a strut. No joke.

3- Kanye West- Mercy

What can I say. I ❤ this. You got 2 Chainz (which I can take or leave), Pusha T, Big Sean. and Ye.

I don’t know why the Huffington Post even commented on this song, but they did. And this is what they said: “”lyrically, ‘Mercy’ doesn’t have much to it, but it’s a competent piece of braggadocio.” I have to disagree. The ass metaphors (ass-quake, ass-state, ass-tray) is pure poetic genius. No joke.

All the  leather and keffiyehs in the video remind me a bit of a S&M al-Qaeda party. But who am I to judge.

2- Diplo- Express Yourself (NSFW)

Maybe my favorite 2012 discovery is Diplo, a Philadelphia music producer and songwriter. You might know his dance hall-y stuff under the name Major Lazer. Besides being oh-so-cute, he also makes amazing music. He also took his name from the dinosaur Diplodocus, which is both nerdy and hot. The video is amazing (though def not suitable for work) and body positive (me thinks?)

This song, part daggering, part Louisiana booty bounce, part dub- is pretty much perfect.

1- Rudimental- Feel the Love

First of all, urban cowboys. That is really all I should be saying about this song/video. But I must indulge. This song was HUGE in England this year but somehow missed the mark in the US- I am not sure why. This group hails from Hackney, and the gritty electro beats are definitely witness to that. I like the dubsteppy, funky, jazzy vibe, and the soulful lyrics. Did I mention I love urban cowboys?? I listen to this song all the time. No joke. Turn that ish up.