I haven’t written anything on here in a long time, because of law school, but I have some free time to kill right now and nothing better to do. 2013 wasn’t exactly an amazing year musically for me personally, probably because I was still coming off the high that was 2012 (Tame Impala, Nas, Grizzy Bear, Aesop Rock, Blu & Exile etc), but that doesn’t mean there weren’t albums that I really enjoyed. So, even though probably no one will read this, sometimes I like getting these thoughts down. Here is a list of my 10 favorite albums from last year:
10. Janelle Monaé: Electric Lady
Electric Lady is an album that I had been anticipating for a long time. I’ve been a fan of Janelle Monaé ever since I first heard her on OutKast’s “Call The Law” and thoroughly enjoyed her first album The ArchAndroid. This is another solid release by her and to be honest was better than I expected, since I honestly did NOT like the single “Dance Apocalyptic” at all (and still don’t). Like in the last album, there is lots of genre hopping. “It’s Code” could be a pop-soul J5 track (she sounds like a young MJ) and the strings in “Look Into My Eyes” sound like they could be from a James Bond soundtrack, yet on the same album we find the guitar driven “Givin’ Em’ What They Love”, which features a kick ass guitar solo from Prince and some powerful vocals from “The Electric Lady”. This is a really good album that hits its stride in Suite V, my favorite tracks being the blatantly “I Can’t Help It” (MJ/Stevie Wonder) inspired “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes” and the catchy “Can’t Live Without Your Love”. Anyone who liked the last album will probably like this one.
9. Oddisee: Tangible Dream
For those of you who don’t know, Oddisee is a hip hop MC/producer that is from D.C. He is an artist I have an enormous amount of respect for and I think this album is him hitting his best form yet as a lyricist. His delivery, flow and rhyme schemes on songs like “Yeezus was a Mortal Man” and “Own Appeal” are absolutely crazy. I don’t know what happened to him between People Hear What They See (which was a good album) and this mixtape, but he has clearly improved every single aspect of his rapping. Content wise, we find Oddisee talking about his life, his travels, struggles and how he is just well a normal dude, who just happens to be making some great music. This is a great mixtape, that I would recommend to any hip hop fan that likes boom-bap based work with a great use of samples. My favorites track on here is “Killing Time”, in which Odd takes us through his travels over a funky beat. Also, is he the first rapper to sample Grizzly Bear (“Tangible Dream”)?
8. Thundercat: Apocalypse
Thundercat, a bassist who I discovered because of his association with Flying Lotus (who helped out on the production of this album). This is an album that grew on me a lot as the year went on. At first it struck me as produced rather weirdly at times, especially the first time I heard songs like “Tron Song” and “Tenfold”. Despite this, after spending about a month with it, something clicked and I ended up pretty much loving it. There are some real jams on this album, especially the extremely funky single “Oh Sheit it’s X” . Whether he is displaying his virtuosity on the bass on tracks like the “Special Stage” or his singing ability on songs that are more calm on the instrumental front, like “Without You” (which are my two favorite tracks on the album), Thundercat generally brings the goods on this album. This is definitely a darker and in my opinion, better, album than his first. He is now two for two so I can’t wait what to hear what he will create next. I don’t know how to describe the genre of this album, but what I do know is that fans of Neo-Soul releases might dig a lot of these songs.
7. ScienZe: Ella
ScienZe is a rapper from Brooklyn who I have been following for a while. He seems to be incapable of releasing anything bad. I have heard nine releases by him and enjoyed every single one. Whenever I pick up a new mixtape or album by ScienZe I know exactly what to expect, high level lyricism backed by beats that are primarily boom-bap that are often heavily influenced by soul, neo-soul and of course jazz. Ella is a concept album about love, essentially its a boy meets girl story, narrated/played out by ScienZe himself, including dates, sex, doubts and all other shit that a relationship entails. Longtime fans of ScienZe will know its no secret that love is a concept ScienZe himself loves approaching in music and now he has finally done a whole album about it. Despite the fact that this clocks in at 1 hour and 22 minutes, ScienZe has (again) managed to keep me entertained the whole way through. I don’t know if this is my favorite ScienZe project personally (that might be the concept mixtape “Hall Pass”), but he has put out another great project with Ella. Choosing my favorite track here is extremely hard, it could be “The Quest(ion)”, which features a very catchy use of what sounds like a soul sample as ScienZe narrates his first conversation with the girl of the story. Despite how good that track is, my favorite could also be “Charlie Brown”, which has a great use of a piano sample and a dope guest verse from Blu or the extremely chill “The Letter”. Whichever it is, the point is ScienZe is one of my favorite rappers right now, with only a few others coming close.
6. YC The Cynic: GNK
Its always refreshing to hear an extremely young hip hop artist come into the game with a great and confident first album. That is what I have found in YC The Cynic. To start off, he is a great MC, flow, delivery, voice, this guy does it all extremely well. The content of this album is very interesting, ranging from “God Complex”es to criticisms of the hip hop/black community, like on “Murphy’s Law”, which is my favorite song on here. Lyrically at times it seems to be poking fun at some of the content that currently fills up many hip hop stations by having a hook that says “Fuck Niggas/Fuck Bitches/Get Money” after lines like “niggas can’t read the fine print, guess we de-evolvin”, which to me reads as a line that points out the obvious: lyrics that DON’T talk about that stuff aren’t exactly extremely popular right now in hip hop. YC is clearly a student of classic hip hop, as there are blatantly obvious references to things like Pac’, ATCQ and Biggie on various tracks of this album. The production, by Frank Dank, here is all good and fits the lyrics extremely well: there isn’t one song on here that I don’t like. I would write more but there are still other albums to get to. Any hip hop fan should get this, to dispel the myth that there are no good young rappers that are actually capable of releasing a focused, complete and great album that comes without auto-tune or any similar bullshit.
5. Jacco Gardner: A Cabinet of Curiosities
Anyone who has ever talked to me about rock music probably knows I have a weakness for psychedelia. You know, 60s rock/pop-ish stuff, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Syd Barrett led Pink Floyd, stuff like that. This is an album that sounds like it could have been released in that era. Gardner himself admitted that before recording this he was listening to a lot of Billy Nicholls and Curt Boettcher, minds behind albums that are often revered in psychedelic music circles. Despite internet-wide comparisons to Syd himself, I believe that he lacks the raw madness to be a direct descendent of the Pink Floyd acid casualty, though he has obviously been influenced by the more pop side of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn a whole lot. He is a talented multi instrumentalist who plays most of the instruments you hear on this album. I know its bad to say more about other artists than about the artist this column is supposedly on, but I honestly don’t have that much more to say: Gardner has a voice that is perfect for this kind of music. Its a great slice of distinctly british sounding 60s psychedelia, released in 2013 by a guy from the Netherlands. My favorite tracks here are “Puppets Dangling” and “Clear The Air”. Definitely looking forward to the next album this baroque pop/neo-psych marvel hits us with. Recommended to fans of psychedelic pop obviously, since some of these tracks could slide right into a Nuggets album without many people noticing. Also check out that awesome album cover!
4. Quadron: Avalanche
Pop/Neo-Soul group Quadron came back and announced their return with what is easily my least favorite song on the album, the single, “Hey Love”. After I heard this song, I didn’t know what to expect from this album. “Hey Love” just sounded bland compared to the material on their debut album. Luckily every single other song here is much better than that song, so much better than it ended up easily being one of my favorite albums of the year. The singer of Quadron, Coco, honestly has the voice of an angel. When I first heard her she blew me away and she continues to impress me on this album. Combine a singer like her with Robin Hannibal’s production, which in my opinion has vastly improved from the debut album, and you get a pretty damn good album. There are some really great bass lines on most of the songs here. The topics covered here are pretty standard Neo-Soul, you know, love, heartbreak, all of that good stuff. My favorite songs here are “LFT” and “Neverland”, which is a fantastic tribute song to the king of pop, who has obviously had a huge influence on this group, Michael Jackson. On a random note, if Coco did a collaboration with Mariah Carey with Hannibal on the boards, it would be FIRE.
3. Jimi Hendrix: People, Hell And Angels
This is going to be short. I know its kind of cheating. I know this album wasn’t recorded this year, but it was released this year and I hadn’t heard these specific recordings on these songs until this year. Everything you need to know, you already know: Jimi was a monster and he does monstrous things on this album. Favorite track here is “Earth Blues”, I really like that hook with those background singers.
2. Shuggie Otis: Inspiration Information/Wings Of Love
I’m not going to talk about Inspiration Information (1974) at all (even though the song above is from that album), its a soul classic that I had already heard before this year. If you haven’t heard it, listen to it, now. Moving on, this album caught my interest because of the second half: Wings Of Love, AKA a bunch of unreleased tracks by the child (well obviously he isn’t a child anymore) blues guitar/soul prodigy, Shuggie Otis. This is also kind of like “cheating” because yes, like the Hendrix album, these tracks weren’t recorded even near to 2013. Who cares, new music is new music and this “new music” just happens to be better than most new music I heard in 2013. So what should one expect from this album? For the most part, this will suffice: just transport yourself musically to the 70s, back when Soul music was popular and the funk was in full swing. If you have a general idea of what I am talking about, then you can probably guess how this album sounds like: funky guitar riffs, groovy bass lines, soulful vocals etc. My favorite track here is “Fireball Of Love”, which opens up and closes with some kick ass guitar solos. So just listen to Shuggie, “don’t just sit there grittin’ your teeth, get on up and move your feet” and listen to this pleasant time warp.
1. Run The Jewels (El-P/Killer Mike): Run The Jewels
like love this album so much that I have already written a review on it, which is saying something because I honestly don’t write reviews for whole albums (extremely in depth at least) that often. Here is a link to it, but beware, its long as hell: http://kosa12.tumblr.com/post/54143663424/this-is-my-attempt-to-summarize-all-of-my-thoughts
And here are two paragraphs from it that somewhat sum up my thoughts:
(skipped some paragraphs)
Underground hip hop fans tend to criticize the lack of “deepness” (or whatever) in a lot of mainstream music, but one could always make a valid point that some of the best rap records really were not that “deep” content wise. Some of these albums were just perfomed by MCs who were REALLY FUCKING GOOD MCs. MCs who had the technical skills to make pretty much anything interesting. A perfect example of this is Mobb Deep, their first two albums The Infamous and Hell On Earth are widely considered classic (and two of my favorite albums of all time by the way), but what exactly are they talking about most of the time? Often they are just talking about robbing/killing etc on those records but they are doing it with DOPE WORDPLAY over DOPE BEATS. One could also make a similar argument for the underground super group The Bootcamp Clique. Classic albums like Nocturnal (Heltah Skeltah) and Dah Shinin (Smif n Wessun) feature various tracks on which the MCs (who are really damn good) are just bragging about stuff or dissing people. At the end of the day, DOPE WORDPLAY and DOPE BEATS are probably the two most important things when it comes to rap (to me at least), that is why people like Clipse could make entire albums about selling coke and still get my approval (seriously did they ever talk about anything else?). They just did that shit well, just like El-P and Killer Mike do this type of record extremely well right here.
(skipping some paragraphs, one talked about the production)
I’m really glad that the MCs are just as good as the beats, or this album would be extremely irritating. Both MCs have very different styles which makes them trading off verses very interesting. El-P has a style that is so unorthodox to me that despite the fact that I have listened to him for years I really can’t compare his way of rapping to anyone elses. El-P is a rapper who’s verses often reveal more depth on repeated listens, something that has been true about his way of rhyming ever since his Company Flow days (though it is noticable that his style has obviously changed since then, now it definitely less “abstract”). El-P’s wordplay is just ridiculous to me, specifically the timing of allot of his rhymes. A stand out moment for El-P on this album for me can be found at the end of what is arguably the weirdest song on this album “Twin Hype”, where he switches up his flow in the last verse (starts at: Not one shit given’, El-P’s chillin’). Killer Mike is definitely the more “accesible” rapper, which is why even though I am not one of these people, I can see why many people might prefer Killer Mike overall on this album. Killer Mike’s rhyme schemes and flow in general is allot more straight foward and normal than El-P. “Normal” is not a bad thing though, don’t get it twisted, Killer Mike is dope lyrically and destroys this album (I liked R.A.P. Music more than Cancer 4 Cure actually). He is a rapper who really shines when he gets aggresive and this whole album could be described as aggresive. He sounds like he was born to rap over beats like this, which is funny considering he just started working with El-P. A stand out moment for Killer Mike is probably his entire first verse in “Get It” (I’m stuck in a time capsule when rap was actually factual. Damn I love that line) or his borderline ridiculous story verse in “No Come Down”.
(end of excerpt from the review)
tl;dr: I love this album. Probably too much. Call me a stan. I give no fucks. Also FYI they are currently working on a second one, which is good for people like me
My Bloody Valentine - M B V
Tall Black Guy - 8 Miles To Monart
The Dopplegangaz - Hark
Atoms For Peace - Amok
Natti - Still Motion
And thats it. Those are my favorites from last year. I’d be surprised if anyone agreed on every single one, in fact that would be quite boring, but there might be at least one album in here that someone bored enough to read this whole thing (or someone that I specifically told to read it) will enjoy. Peace