Happy 2014, everyone! Now that 2013 has OFFICIALLY bitten the dust (and c’est la vie -seriously), I will reminisce and bask in its highlights with the top 20 album releases of 2013 that I COULD NOT STOP LISTENING TO.. I’d like to say “order-shmorder” to be fair, but the Top 10 are the Top 10 for a reason and everything after is equally as great to whatever it follows, ya dig?
1. YEEZUS – Kanye West
This selection will probably surprise no one since it has topped many an end-of-the-year list. While Kanye is often vilified by the popular media, (and Taylor Swift fans), feeds off his own ego, and compared himself to mega-giants like Michael Jordan and Steve Jobs -he deserves to be recognized as actually being that talented. YEEZUS is a declaration of self -from “I Am a God” to “Guilt Trip” and “Blood on the Leaves,” West acknowledges his own strengths and vulnerabilities as the man that he is -with just as much intensity, anger, and passion he puts towards everything else. As for that “Bound 2” video, we forgive you, ‘Ye.
2. MATANGI – M.I.A.
THE LONG-AWAITED RETURN OF THE QUEEN! Yes, I said it. Step aside Beyonce, for M.I.A. has returned with the real rump-shakers with meaning. I had the privilege of sacrificing my life to see her set of new tracks at Chicago’s own Pitchfork Festival and the three-year hiatus only rejuvenated the quick-witted, spit-fire rapper. And yes, M.I.A. is a rapper and a damn good one at that. Mixing her social commentary and call-to-arms activism with hypnotic beats and addictive hooks, her boastful yet endearing swagger kept MATANGI spinning for weeks in my apartment. You must adhere to “Y.A.L.A” -you must.
3. SILENCE YOURSELF – Savages
An all-female punk-outfit from the UK who snarl like Siouxsie and the Banshees mixed with Joy Division? WHAT MORE COULD I ASK FOR?! Savages debut was about forty-minutes of in-your-face and in-your-ears and stuck-in-your-head post-punk from ladies who obviously could give a you-know-what about your own, musical agenda. Its rhythmic jaggedness and PJ Harvey-esque howl of lead singer, Jehnny Beth, propelled this record forward and placed Savages on everyone’s radar. If they aren’t on yours, THEY SHOULD BE NOW.
4. ACID RAP – Chance the Rapper
Ok, I’m biased. Chance the Rapper, aka Chancellor Bennett, is a Chicago artist who made EVERYTHING BETTER in 2013 with his tell-tale release. After garnering much attention and acclaim with his self-released 10 Day EP, the local scene clamored for more and Chance made his way from the cover of the Chicago Reader to the cover of The Source’s “Rookie of the Year” issue. Acid Rap is a ride featuring artists like Childlish Gambino and Action Bronson to another up-and-coming local, Vic Mensa. It was perfect for the summer, perfect for Chicago, and a perfect launching pad for Bennett and his future “social experiments”, as he calls them.
5. MY NAME IS MY NAME – Pusha T
When Kanye West is tweeting about something other than himself or baby mamma Kim Kardashian, you KNOW something big is about to drop. Cut to Pusha T’s latest release that had me sitting on the couch with my jaw on the floor after first listen. T is quietly vicious, cold in his abstraction, and quick witted on the release- albeit endearing on one of the record’s hit singles “Sweet Serenade” which featured Chris Brown. He’s claimed the throne as a multidimensional rapper and his finesse and delivery blew-up on track after track.
6. II – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
I have to thank my former boss at Time Out Chicago for introducing me to this wonderful band and their wonderful neo-psychedelic, blood-rush-to-the-head rock n roll. 10 tracks spanning both space and time, UMO will build you up and tear you down only to build you up again and melt your face as a finale. From more-or-less pessimistic tales of loneliness without care (“From the Sun”) to heartsick lullabies, and my personal favorite, “So Good at Being in Trouble” -the 3 piece has developed a cult-following in the states. Please, do yourself a favor and get this record. I don’t care how you get it, just have it in your possession, listen to it in the dark with a candle burning, then go to a live show. No seriously, GET YOUR ASS TO THEIR LIVE SHOW!
7. BORN SINNER – J.Cole
THIS RECORD WAS EXPLOSIVE. The record’s four singles, “Power Trip” “Crooked Smile” “Forbidden Fruit” -which features Kendrick Lamar, and “She Knows” permeated the airwaves. For a self-produced release, Cole found his ground in a hip-hop landscape that has seemed repetitive and cold as of late.
8. NIGHT TIME, MY TIME – Sky Ferreira
I never thought a LP from Sky Ferreira was ever going to come. The pouty songstress seemed too busy with her Calvin Klein commercials and drug arrests…allegedly. However, a full-length release came in late October and it was TOTALLY WORTH IT! With nods to ’80s nu-wave peppered with a bit of Siouxsie and the Banshees with a splash of Debbie Harry’s bleach-blonde, Ferreira’s almost bored-sounding brassy vocals bellow over rumbling guitars and glistening keys. A record about being a strong woman while loving love and boys and being alone? It was pretty much tailor-made for ears such as mine. Thank you, Sky, no really.
9. DAYS ARE GONE – Haim
If you spent 2013 being completely ignorant of the Haim sisters, then you have no business reading any further. Este, Danielle, and Alana refused to be ignored and couldn’t be with their unique vocal delivery, endearing sister bonds, and addictive sweet-but-sour singles like “The Wire.” The absolutely SHUT DOWN the episode of Saturday Night Live that they played and revived a Sheryl Crow classic, “Strong Enough” with the help of New Zealand’s own phenom, Lorde. The album wasn’t groundbreaking and didn’t really introduce anything new, but it was a jolt to the airwaves; a drop of the good good to wake up listeners who were inundated with bass-drops and dance remixes all year long. Haim is good for music, good for rock, and good for women who love and do all of the above.
10. SUNKEN – Twin Peaks
AGAIN, I’M BIASED, but this record carved out a space for dreamers and stoned, summer beach bums alike. Biased because these dudes are local Chicagoans and biased because I’ve developed a bit of a crush on all four of them after bumming cigarettes and chatting at shows. Truly, Peaks’ debut release is lo-fi, D.I.Y gold, delivered in about 30 minutes or less. For a group of young men, some of whom aren’t out of their teens yet, their rock n roll palettes are fine-tuned to only the best like Thin Lizzy and T.Rex, muddled with the grit of MC5 or something equally as spastic. Each song is melodic in its own way, from the jangling “Baby Blue” to the airy-breath that is “Irene” and the 1 minute, 24 seconds, completely with air-guitar ready glam solo, “Out of Commission.” All ten tracks are stand alone gems, but as a whole, Twin Peaks have established that they’re a force to be reckoned with, beyond the local scene. But it will be a mellow reckoning, probably.
11. The Next Day – David Bowie
A God in my eyes, the ONE and ONLY David Bowie returned with his first record in a decade. Its lead single, “Where Are We Now?” was a reminiscent ballad of sorts, establishing Bowie’s own mortality and his legacy as a renaissance man. With nods to his greatest successes, Aladdin Sane, Ziggy Stardust, and Diamond Dogs, Bowie’s enigma reigned true to form from tracks like “I’d Rather Be High” and “Dirty Boys.” The elder statesmen to his rock and roll counterparts, Bowie ruled 2013 by just simply being Bowie.
12. Hesitation Marks – Nine Inch Nails
I had the honor of being front row for Nine Inch Nails at 2013’s Lollapalooza festival. Trent Reznor and co. brought their cold, industrial-yet-hypersexual progression to a head as the Chicago city lights glowed behind them. Tracks from Hesitation Marks fit seemlessly into the band’s set, where songs like “Came Back Haunted” and “Everything” picked up where the band’s 2008 release, The Slip, left off. Packed with the same intensity and minimalist grit they’ve become known for, NIN show no signs of mellowing out.
13. MBV – My Bloody Valentine
My Bloody Valentine’s melodic, angst-pop has evolved into 9 even more complex “shoegazing” -style tracks. As if it were still the ’90s, their calm, dream pop was a relaxing alternative to the alternative rock that ruled the airwaves. Reminding us of what was and what may never be again, My Bloody Valentine brought the perfect balance of nostalgia and re-energized vigor to feel to.
14. AM – Arctic Monkeys
There has yet to be an Arctic Monkeys release I don’t love. That being said, AM fell from my top ten because there were albums that were just better. ANYWAY, what Mr. Turner and the boys -um, men- continually bring to the table is a masterful combination of elegance and cheekiness that puts the Monkeys in a class all their own. Tracks like “Do I Wanna Know” and “R U Mine?” soar with such a gutteral rumble that you could forget that these bloaks first christened the scene with a tame, “Fake Tales of San Francisco.” What keeps them at the head of the pack are Alex Turner’s poet rockstar lyrics on songs like, “Just Wanna Be Yours” and “No. 1 Party Anthem” where broken (or flourishing) love takes hold of the wallflowers at the house party. If you don’t have AM in your record collection, we could never be friends -sorry.
15. Pure Heroine – Lorde
If “Royals” wasn’t stuck in your head for at least a week, then the tail-end of 2013 rushed right past you. 16, or 17, year old New Zealand songstress Lorde brought her suburban (maybe) angst and Darlene-from-Roseanne fashion to the forefront for all ages to enjoy. Pure Heroine was a mature, powerful, minimalist hip-hop approach to radio-friendly pop music. While Lorde’s lyrics in songs like “Royals” and “Team” called out, not only her musical peers but maybe newfound fans, her honesty and annoyance with the “scene” was refreshing and should be taken seriously. Her on-stage presence, almost surly demeanor, and secret independent-woman-feminist-agenda hidden beneath dark eggplant lipstick and catchy hooks will carry her high into 2014. I’ll be at her Chicago show in March, be on the lookout.
16. Reflektor – Arcade Fire
Since their behemoth release, The Suburbs, won some Grammys and topped its own year end lists back in 2010, Arcade Fire have been quiet. With the release of 2013’s Reflektor, we now know that they had clearly locked themselves in a room with some Bowie and Flaming Lips records. Regardless of what they took, or didn’t take, this album was a battery spark that wouldn’t take a breath or fall flat no matter how bad it should have. It bubbled with electronics, played with distortions, and encapsulated the ambition and insatiable hunger of a clan of multitalented musicians on their own spaceship.
17. Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend
I feel like Vampire Weekend have been around forever, and that this album should be far beyond the band’s third effort…but it’s not. As witty and delightful as frontman Ezra Koenig’s twitter feed, Modern Vampires of the City was the indie heroes’ most cohesive record to date. A lively ride of anthemic sing-a-longs, indie dance shakers, and Koenig’s intrinsic use of literary revel, this record was stamped ‘instant classic’ by magazines, blogs, websites, and me alike.
18. Random Access Memories – Daft Punk
DANCE MUSIC IS NEVER MY THING, EVER. But oh, Daft Punk, I love you so. If you weren’t singing along to “Get Lucky” at some point of 2013, I will not hold it against you if you turn it up right now (and put it on repeat). The neo-disco, glittery, Studio 54 for the millenials rollercoaster ride was over an hour long and even featured the Strokes’ frontman, Julian Casablancas. Breathing life back into step-by-step built EDM and “dubstep” bore, Daft Punk took the good from the disco-era (arguably if there ever was any) and trusted their own multidimensional talents and birthed the BEST dance record of the year…that I’ve ever listened to fully.
19. ‘…Like Clockwork’ – Queens of the Stoneage
…Like Clockwork’s slow-burn felt almost dangerous, but in a way only QOTSA could accomplish. Uncharacteristically focused for a Queen’s record, the band’s iconic blend of volume, grit, and seductive darkness reveled in production from Homme himself and contributions ranging from Trent Reznor and Brody Dalle to Sir Elton John.
20. Afraid of Heights – Wavves
Brash and snotty and full of punk, Wavves sure have grown up since their lo-fi, self-title debut which boasted cult hit, “I’m So Bored” …or have they? Frontman Nathan Williams holds tight to his croon-albeit stoned whine over rushing riffs and tones. A record of new material that still felt comfortingly familiar, Nathan Williams is either vying for Cobainhood or content with being the grunge Jim Morrison. The record was around 40 minutes of energy and punch-out singles that only turned up to 11 (ha ha, get it?) when performed live…no really.