One thing I’ve noticed doing this every year is just how much I would re-order things now. Not having Frank Ocean at No. 2 last year was criminal. “Take Care” definitely should have been in the top 10 of 2010. I haven’t listened to “High Violet” in forever but I still queue up “Teen Dream” all the time. You get it.
These rankings do not matter outside of the top two, which are the only two I really feel strongly about (that’ll post next week, I guess). It’s just something I like doing every year. I think this was a pretty great year for music, but maybe every year is a great year for music. Other albums I liked in 2013 that did not make this list because I haven’t listened to ‘em enough or just wasn’t feeling it at the moment include: HAIM, Smith Westerns, Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, California X, Vampy Weeks, Pusha-T, Parquet Courts, Thee Oh Sees, Waxahatchee.
That’s, like, 30 really good albums released this year. Nice work, everyone. We did it.
20. Earl Sweatshirt - Doris
This was my most anticipated album of the year, but I can’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed by it. Jeff Weiss wrote at length about this, so read that. I just think Earl made some weird decisions here. Letting that no-name bro rap first on the record was a straight-up troll move that I’m sure Earl found hilarious. The world does not and will never need three songs featuring Vince Staples. But there are still some killer moments here, and it only reinforces that Earl is, like, the Andrew Wiggins of this shit. “Raw” is a two-way street here. He’ll figure it out eventually.
"Chum" is great. Frank Ocean’s verse on "Sunday" is one of the most memorable music moments this year. When Earl finally does come in on that ridiculous beat on the first track of the album, it’s straight-up world destruction. I also love “Whoa”, even with its cheesy hook. There will be better things to come from Earl, but this is still pretty good.
19. No Joy - Wait to Pleasure
This album pretty much rules, and I feel like it’s maybe the most slept on album of the year. There’s a bunch of songs I love, but we will go with “Hare Tarot Lies” for the YouTube embed:
18. Diarrhea Planet - I’m Rich Beyond My Wildest Dreams
"Hammer of the Gods" kicks ass. "Field of Dreams", I imagine, would sound great blasted loud as fuck in a car. The one that gets stuck in my head is "White Girls (Student of the Blues, Pt. 1).
♫"I turned the radio down ‘cause my thoughts were too loud"♫
17. Drake - Nothing was the Same
I really feel like “Take Care” is going to be all over end-of-decade lists six years from now even though it wasn’t exactly fawned over when it came out. That album is so good. NWTS is not as good, but it’s still pretty good! It’s so repetitive (obviously an intentional effect), but sometimes that works in its favor. “Started From the Bottom” has never really done anything for me, but there’s definitely some hits here.
"Worst Behaviour" is just the greatest, and if you disagree, you are wrong. One of my favorite songs of the year, no doubt. I fuck with “Hold On, We’re Going Home” too, even though I could never argue with anyone who thinks it blows. I can’t believe Pitchfork said it was the best song of the year. It’s so goddamn cheesy. If this song is cool, I can’t define what the word “cool” means anymore.
But whatever, those backup vocals! My friends — people who love music but did not know a Drake song before this one — have recently started loving “Hold On, We’re Going Home” after the Arctic Monkeys did a hilarious cover of it. I danced to this song until like 3 a.m. a few weeks ago. I think it was played five times in a row. When that happens, complaining about corny-ass lyrics like “I want your hot love and emotion, endlessly” just seems pointless. Who gives a shit. Muthafuckaz never luved us!
16. Tyler, the Creator - Wolf
"Goblin" is basically impossible to get 100 percent through at this point. Fortunately, this album is 50x better. There’s a surprising amount of jams here. I want ride in a convertible in California and just blast "48". The "Jamba" beat goes so hard. "Colossus" is obviously on some "Stan" shit but I think it pulls it off.
The best thing that came out of this album, though, was by far Tyler, Earl and Domo doing “Rusty” on Letterman. I loved everything about it and I’ve probably watched it 10 times. Let’s make it 11:
15. FIDLAR - S/T
"I drink / cheap beer / so what / fuck you"
Haha, so immature but pretty good. I’d be embarrassed to play half this record at a party (“I feel…..feel like a coke head”), but it’s basically the kind of music I was raised on so of course I love it. "Wait For the Man" is probably the best song on here.
14. Disclosure - Settle
This is not the type of music I typically listen to, but I feel like this record is just undeniable. Here is a story about the first time I heard it.
I saw people tweeting about this album, so I downloaded it without hearing a song. I burned it to a CD (I still do this all the time, weird, I know) and gave it to one of my bros when he picked me up to play basketball. I told a packed car this was supposedly the new hotness but that I didn’t know anything about it, other than that both Hot Chip and my friend Kayla liked it. JaVale McGee also tweeted a picture of “The Singles” but deleted it for some reason. I swear I’m not making that up. JaVale, Kayla, Hot Chip is a triple rec I am always willing to follow.
We put the CD in and “When A Fire Starts To Burn” begins playing. It took literally less than 10 seconds for my buddy Tom to say “maybe we should put on something else”. Two minutes later, I’m 99 percent sure he was bobbling head and elbow dancing. How can you not?
Like I said, Disclosure is undeniable.
13. Lorde - Pure Heroine
I saw The Replacements at Riot Fest this year. I also saw the Yeezus tour. I feel Lorde and I could bond over that.
Was there some music blogger controversy with Lorde this year? I think there was, but I did not pay any attention to it. I love Lorde. Girl covers a Replacements song at her live shows and also covers “Hold My Liquor”. She shouts-out pivotal Broken Social Scene jam “Lover’s Spit” on “Ribs”. She’s a hero. We practically best friends.
I like a lot of songs on this album, probably because they all sound the same. Who cares. “Tennis Court” is the jam.
12. Mikel Cronin - MCII
I’m a big Ty Segall fan (more on him later) and Cronin plays bass in Ty’s band. I thought his first album was pretty good but this one is just a big step up. My bro Tom thinks it sounds like Ben Kweller but isn’t as good. He’s an idiot. It sounds like Ben Kweller and is probably just as good, which means it’s awesome.
11. Surfer Blood - Pythons
I do not feel good about liking this album. The singer was arrested domestic abuse charges and that’s reason enough to ban them from your ears altogether. Unfortunately, I’ve always liked Surfer Blood and I really like this album. There are times when I feel like it’s better than their debut, though I sense that’s an opinion shared by no one who likes them.
"Weird Shapes" is perfect, one of my favorite songs of the year. When the vocals kick in on "Demon Dance", I always want to start singing "The World Has Turned and Left Me Here". I’m 99 percent sure the melody is exactly the same. "Prom Song" and "Gravity" are pretty good, too.
Mostly, listening to this album just makes me want to listen to Weezer’s forgotten “Songs From the Black Hole”. Anything that can get me to crank "Blast Off!" has to be a pretty good album. I think this is.
I also feel bad ending on this so we’re gonna do one more.
10. Speedy Ortiz - Major Arcana
Maybe this is something not even worth noticing anymore, but it just struck me: I listened to a lot of female-fronted music in 2013. I didn’t get too into Grimes until this year (“Genesis” forever), but now I’m definitely pro-Grimes. I listened to Swearin’ and Waxahatchee a bunch. I love the No Joy record. Lorde, HAIM and Miley resuscitated pop music. And if there is a human being in this world cooler than Janelle Monae, that person has yet to be discovered. I also really loved this Speedy Ortiz record, which just kept growing on me as the year went on.
This is pretty much pop-punk perfection in my book, but it retains whatever street cred is generally lost with that label. There are tons of jams here. “Fun”, “No Below”, “Hitch” are all great. Here is “Tiger Tank”, which is also great.
9.Ty Segall - Sleeper
/Writing this section last…
Damn, this is way too long already. Let’s just say every Ty Segall album is pretty great and this all-acoustic one is no exception. Here’s “Man Man”:
8. Foxygen - We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Foxygen is the worst band in the world. My friends saw ‘em in the spring and confirmed this, but I didn’t want to believe it because this album dominated the first quarter of the year for me. It probably has a real stake at being No. 3 on this list. But then I saw their set at Pitchfork and I realized everything I heard before was dead-on.
Fuck this band. “No Destruction” is great for what it is; “San Francisco” should be the title track to every Wes Anderson movie from now to the end of time. Yet after seeing them faceplant live — they didn’t even play those two songs! — it’s hard for me to say anything good about them. They were so goddamn annoying, just doing anything up there to bring attention to themselves without actually playing music. And when they did finally play something, it wasn’t anything off this album and it mostly sounded like shit. This band is the 2013-14 Knicks without the talent. The only real shame here is that Carles has mostly closed up shop, because old school Hipster Runoff would have had a field day with these bros.
Anyways. “No Destruction” is still good.
7.Kurt Vile - Waking on a Pretty Daze
There was a point in my life when I really enjoyed the four-season climate in Chicago. That’s when I was young and stupid and shouldn’t have been trusted. There are few things I would I find as eminently depressing as winter at this point in my life, the way it just ruins everything, mostly the general population’s will to live. That’s why I love this Kurt Vile record. It sounds like spring, but not one of those shitty spring days in Chicago when it’s still 42 degrees and drizzling and the sleet from last week’s snowfall is still coming off the street in the first week of April. This sounds the first nice day of spring, when you know winter is a distant memory and everything from here on out is going to be awesome. That’s always the best day of the year: the day that’s the furthest possible day away from the next day of winter.
There are some great songs here. The title track earns the 10-minute run time. “Never Run Away” is immediately catchy and accessible. “Shame Chamber” — official track of your 2013-14 Chicago Bulls! — is wonderful, as well. “A Girl Named Alex” and some of the other longer, slower songs are perfect too for what they are. This is the Real Estate - Days of this year in that it fits a certain mood perfectly and I’ll probably listen to it for a long time.
6. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
My group of friends can have a pretty wide age range from time-to-time because most people hang out with their siblings. The young bloods are truly a bizarre clique, but can occasionally be essential for keeping the party vibes spirited. 23-year olds are generally indefatigable.
I was hanging out with them in the spring, sitting at a table with a few of my friends at a party with group of people three or four years younger. “Get Lucky” came on and we started talking about it. I was really high on that song when it first came out. I think I shouted some bullshit about how it was the most accessibly good, hit song to come out since “1901”, with my qualifier being: would I listen to it by myself on my iPod? (which disqualifies the people’s champ “Call Me Maybe”). I wasn’t even that drunk, it was just something I believed before over-saturation really did it in. Naturally, a few of my friends disagreed. We sort of argued about it, aboutjust how good “Get Lucky” was instead of enjoying it while it was on.
At one point while this quote-unquote debate was going on, I looked to side and noticed everyone else at this party was grooving hard. The dancing was as weird as it was enthusiastic. The rug was cut such enthusiasm it could never be stitched back together. The argument was pointless because the answer to it was 10-feet to my left.
There’s one somewhat substantial caveat here: I don’t think I’ve made it through this entire album more than once. I like five songs, but those five songs are all real good. “Fragments of Time” is Your Dad’s favorite song of 2013, and it isn’t even up for debate. “Doin’ It Right” is simple but without flaw. My favorite, though, is “Instant Crush”. The Strokes are one of my favorite bands of all-time and this is the best thing Julian has done since at least “11th Dimension”. What I track. I listened to it like four times a day for two months. I should really start doing that again.
5. Wavves - Afraid of Heights
My first favorite artist was Will Smith, and my parents’ house has the CD collection to prove it. I vividly remember my mom telling me to brush my teeth for as long as my No. 1 favorite song in the world, “The Wild Wild West”. Around junior high I got really into Limp Bizkit and other the nu-metal kingpins of the day. Fuck you, “N 2 Gether Now” still owns. Then, at some point I discovered Green Day and blink-182, and I’ve basically liked the same type of music ever since.
I never listen to Green Day or blink anymore unless I’m flipping to private listening on Spotify to crank “Insomniac”. It doesn’t really stand the test of time in my humble estimation, but at the same time I feel like shit like Wavves — probably one of my 10 favorites bands going right now — doesn’t sound all that different. Early Weezer or Nirvana are probably more apt touchstones, but I think the point remains: this mostly sounds like the music I listened to as a teenager, all the way to the occasionally cringeworthy lyrics.
There’s a track or two I might skip past for that reason, but damn, these songs just rock. “Sail to the Sun” and “Demon to Lean On” is a pretty righteous 1-2 punch to open. “Lunge Forward”, “Beat Me Up” and “That’s On Me” have all spent heavy time on playlists I’ve made throughout this year. I can’t tell if “Dog” is embarrassing or funny or both, but it’s definitely good.
I also can’t help but wonder if the steep decline of rock music can’t be helped by more stuff that sounded like this. As Rick Pitino once said, LCD Soundsystem ain’t walking through that door. The new bands I really like — like Joyce Manor and Cloud Nothings, ect. — don’t worry about sounding “cool” as much as they just write catchy songs that go super hard. That’s what Wavves does and I think that’s what we need more of, as a society.
4. Deerhunter - Monomania
The most jarring thing about seeing Deerhunter this fall was just observing just how few fucks they give. They’ve earned to right to make “Nothing Ever Happened” a 25-minute jam session at this point, and what the heck, they’re going to take full advantage of it. I loved the show but most of the people I was with hated it. It’s because this band makes zero concessions. Deerhunter established their name on building catchy songs out of mountains of noise, and though they’ve gotten away from that on their last two albums, it’s still very much a key part of their live aesthetic. You get a hit parade when you see Deerhunter, but there’s usually no immediate payoff. It’s a slow burn.
"Monomania" is great album, in my opinion, but it’s one I like to skip around on. Deerhunter is a Hall of Fame band for me at this point, so what I’m looking for more than a strong album front-to-back is few hit songs. This does the job. "T.H.M." is one of my favorite songs of the year and one of the best five Deerhunter songs ever. "Dream Captain", "Sleepwalking" and "Back to the Middle" kick ass, too. I’ve never had any desire to ride a motorcycle, but the title track to this album kind of makes me want to do it. This far into a super prolific recording career for Bradford Cox, that’s enough for me.
3. Arcade Fire - Reflektor
Let’s get one thing out of the way: this band is not cool and it is not cool to like them. I reflexively tend to agree with almost any criticism lobbed against them. The themes of the songs remind me more of “A City By the Light Divided” than anything Talking Heads ever did. The lyrics can be tacky as hell (“I’m so confused. Am I a normal person?” — nah bro, you’re just a cheesy-ass lyricist). They do shit like put Régine in that glass box on SNL during “Reflektor” and think it looks cool. It doesn’t! But it was sure hilarious.
Anyways, I don’t care if they’re emo dorks dressed up as pilgrims, mariachis from outer space or whatever they’re on now. I’ve always liked this band and I still like this band. It’s because they write good songs! Sure, you need to fight your way through a four-cheese blend just to get through ‘em, but this album definitely has some bangers in my opinion.
The title track is great. I’m not too good to admit I love “Joan of Arc”. “It’s Never Over” grooves hard. “You Already Know” doesn’t have any frills, but is still pretty awesome. I don’t even skip around much on this album even though it’s 400 minutes long or whatever, just the third song and first track on the second disc. It’s tough to say how much longevity this will have, but I’m not sure it matters. It’s another Arcade Fire album full of jams. Nothing new here.
2. Chance the Rapper - Acid Rap
It kills me that I’m not making “Acid Rap” No. 1. I love “Acid Rap”. It takes something superhuman to prevent it from reaching the top spot, but more on “Yeezus” in a minute.
Chance has a lot of things going for him: great taste, a sense of self-awareness way beyond his age, enough dexterity in his voice to match Kendrick. But mostly, he just knows how to write hit songs. “Acid Rap” is loaded with hit songs. I haven’t listened to the radio in over a decade, but I imagine this album would crush the radio in the ’90s. It feels like there’s eight potential singles on here.
Almost every review mentions the second half of "Pusha Man" as the mixtape’s apex, which I agreed with wholeheartedly before ever reading any of them. The south side of Chicago has experienced so much tragic, senseless violence in the last two years; the end of that song feels so relevant and meaningful coming from someone who came through it. I like Chief Keef too but the distance between “Bang! Bang!” and Chance’s nuanced and empathetic take on the gunshots is just so cavernous.
I am generally biased toward my home city, I suppose, but Chance feels important to me. He’s a ridiculous talent. Early Eminem himself would have had a hard time topping the lyrical spin in the middle of “Everybody’s Something”:
Can’t wait for what’s next from Chance. Here’s “Juice”:
1. Kanye West - Yeezus
The fuck-up-your-whole-afternoon-shit fucked up the whole year. Somewhere along the way, this became the Kanye album I feel the strongest about. It’s beyond me how someone seven albums deep into his career and this routinely prolific can still sound so fresh and surprising and as brilliant as he’s ever been.”Yeezus” is legendary to me and I doubt I’ll ever retroactively accuse myself of too much hyperbole with that assessment. This is a classic.
It’s great that so many didn’t like this album, because people are generally wrong and stupid. Did this really sell less than the J. Cole album? Incomprehensible. Even Jabari Parker hates it! But while there are certainly things to take issue with — the rampant misogyny, mostly — it doesn’t change two things that make it special: a) this is the realest, most true-to-self shit Kanye has ever done, and b) the music is inspired, boundary-pushing and game-changing.
I don’t think there’s another musician alive who could truly pop a wheelie on the zeitgeist (OK, maybe Miley), but mission accomplished here. This album only got more interesting as the year went on when mostly everything else tends to teeter off. Every Kanye interview added a new layer of depth to this album. The live show just took it to the next level when I didn’t even think another level could possibly be out there. It was like “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is Joseph was played by 2 Pac.
The first few times I heard “Blood on the Leaves” kick in, it just leveled me emotionally. “New Slaves” makes me wat to break everything in my apartment. I’d go through the rest but this is too long already. You get it. “Yeezus” was one of the true gifts of 2013. I am genuinely thankful it exists.
* * *
Here’s a Spotify playlist of my favorite songs of the year (in some rough order for the first 20 or 30 or whatever), too.