Tuesday, January 7, 2014

2013: Music Favorites and Digging Deeper

I dug deeper into (clockwise from top left) Passion Pit, Haim, The National and my new favorite band, Vampire Weekend in 2013.
I do this every year and I wasn't going to forget in a year where I dove deeper into more artists and took some chances.

10. Booker T. - Sound the Alarm (A summer classic from one of America's finest soul men/arrangers)
9. Mayer Hawthorne – Where Does This Door Go (Finally realize how great he is)
8. Killer Mike/El-P - Run The Jewels
7. Justin Timberlake – 20/20 Experience Part 1 (Welcome back JT)
6. Janelle Monae – Electric Lady (Best R&B album of the year
5. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (It got so much better with time)
4. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
3. Haim – Days Are Gone
2. Arctic Monkeys - AM
1. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

Why Vampire Weekend? Modern Vampires is a great album about growing up and questioning your world around you. It’s questioning faith without giving it up. The single “Unbelievers” sounds like a folk song that fits the grown nature of the album without sacrificing the light-hearted optimism in Ezra Koenig’s voice. 

“Diane Young” and “Worship You” are creative, upbeat gems but the songs that hit me deep like the anthemic “Ya Hey”  and bleak “Hudson” fit the darker mood.

Honorable Mention: Tyler, the Creator “Wolf”, Earl Sweatshirt “Doris”, Ghostface Killah “Twelve Reasons to Die, Queens of the Stone Age “Like Clockwork”, Phoenix "Bankrupt" (I really loved this album)

You might be wondering why I don’t have Yeezus on here? I’m willing to say that album is the most overrated project of the year only because it's being nearly unanimously praised it as the year’s best album. It’s disjointed, it’s not cohesive and for the great songs on here - Bound 2, New Slaves, Black Skinhead - there’s too much going on that almost reflects the chaos Kanye had this year.

Discussing him as a person is difficult because you have people post-Taylor Swift who just call him crazy and his interviews as “rants”. Then you have people who’ve known his music for a decade who notice how he’s changed after the death of his mother while acknowledging where he’s still creative.

All I’ll say is that when personal turmoil affects the high standard of one’s art, it makes it tough to listen and just accept. Yeezus lacked the soul-baring that defines Kanye’s music and while the anger came out in other ways, the introspection was lacking.

Favorite 10 (technically 11) songs in no order
The National – This is the Last Time
Justin Timberlake – Strawberry Bubblegum
Vampire Weekend - Unbelievers
Schoolboy Q/Kendrick Lamar – Collard Greens
Phoenix – Trying to Be Cool
Mayer Hawthorne – Allie Jones
Janelle Monae/Erykah Badu – Q.U.E.E.N.
Daft Punk f. Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers – Get Lucky/ Lose Yourself to Dance
Arctic Monkeys – Do I Wanna Know
Haim – The Wire
*For more of my faves, enjoy my year-end playlist here

Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” was an incredible song that sounded like nothing else on radio. The first time you heard it, it was disco for an updated age. I still love it to this day but “Lose Yourself to Dance” was even funkier.  In a year where EDM became even more popular and dance music was losing its soul, Daft Punk tried to find it going back to when musicianship and fun went hand in hand. 

(RAM also introduced me to Panda Bear, who then made me listen to Animal Collective. Merriwether Post Pavilion is a great album but "My Girls" became an anthem for me as I looked for work. Promising to work hard for the women in your life, not caring about fancy things and honoring your late dad's memory - that's all me.)

Drake's “5 AM in Toronto” could’ve been the album song that reminded folks of the guy on “So Far Gone.” But I accept Drake for what he is. A rapper that stays in his lane and gives the same type of material to his fans. I also give Noah “40” Shebib credit as a producer who matches him perfectly. He may not be growing as an artist - which bugs me and has the last couple years - but he what he is.

2013 introduced me to the goodness of the Pixies (Doolittle album at the bottom), the quirky TV on the Radio and three more artists you might know.
Musically, 2013 was about discovering and digging deeper into older artists. I listened to more albums that I heard about but never listened to and I embraced going through artist’s catalogues. I zipped through Led Zeppelin in a month and alternated between Curtis Mayfield and Bob Marley the next.  I listened to more of the White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Passion Pit and Donny Hathaway’s albums to understand more of why I liked them.

Zeppelin probably deserves their own post but I can’t say enough how much I dig and respect them or how much I’ve listened to them over and over. How much John Bonham’s drumming had my soul in a frenzy or John Paul Jones’ bass/keys had me respecting his versatility. I’m in awe of Jimmy Page’s production, songwriting and playing - even though I still have Jimi, Stevie Ray, Eddie Hazel and others above him - and Robert Plant’s voice, which was always one of my favorites.

Like my Spotify list says, The National became my most played band of the year. A band that I dismissed as sad and boring came alive for me once I zipped through their catalogue in one day. When I saw them live on Conan O’Brien, my respect grew even more. I love the vocals and drumming above it all but their songs also convey adult problems in a relatable way.

Jay-Z’s “Magna Carta...Holy Grail” is his best since American Gangster but I still can’t bring myself to listen to him as much. Name-dropping fashion and showing off his wealth may be his life now but it doesn’t make for compelling music. Jay still has creative verses and this album shows that but he's almost become just another big name without the creative excitement

As Dart Adams said, these album release events don’t change the game for everyone else. It’s not “New Rules” if the masses can’t follow. Jay changed the game with The Blueprint in having folks go back to soul samples but with MCHG, he just flaunted his power and marketing. He followed Justin Timberlake’s lead and Beyonce did the same but how did they change music except show their privilege? Maybe that's why I'm more fascinated by the promotion than the art and when times passes, it doesn't make music that much better.

I know this is from 2012 but it's still appropriate for Kendrick and Top Dawg Entertainment dominating a year where they didn't release an album.
Big Sean’s “Control” deserves it’s own space. Not since Bonecrusher’s “Never Scared” has a song launched two guest rappers to even bigger notoriety. Jay Electronica came back from Rothschild luxury to remind us of his gift and of course, Kendrick Lamar took a bigger leap from his stellar 2012.

Kendrick had a few of those moments in 2013 - the remix of “Don’t Kill My Vibe” was a victory lap - but with “Control”, he dropped another bomb in hip-hop that reminded us that he and Top Dawg Entertainment care about raising the bar. It wasn’t about dissing, it was a call to arms that summed up what he’s been saying since Section.80.

That’s why I’m excited for Black Hippy Crew to make even bigger moves in 2014. Schoolboy Q drops his record in February and hopefully Ab-Soul will too. This year will also see new albums from Maxwell and Foster the People. Finally, I hope to dig into more artists and I’ve got my eye on Stevie Wonder and the Rolling Stones.

The best lesson I learned this year was how can I talk about music if I don’t look back and listen to more of the old. It’s at my fingertips so dive in and learn. Appreciate the present by knowing the past and grow into these artists that I’ve known from a distance.

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