My introduction to Lorde, like many, was her (now ubiquitous) single “Royals.” The distinctly Kanye West-circa-808s & Heartbreak undertones of the single’s production (and of the album itself) sold me in less than 20 seconds, but the true clincher was the captivating otherworldliness of 17 year-old New Zealand native Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor’s voice. Possessing a tonal maturity much beyond her years, the world’s introduction to Lorde is – without competition – the pop music blessing of the year.
9. Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap
Acid Rap, Chance’s second mixtape, is a dizzyingly satisfying blend of the Chicago artist’s most obvious influences – from Eminem to Kanye West to the Internet at large and back again. Yet, nothing wreaks of copy-and-paste laziness. Instead, Chance cherry-picks from the most important hip hop artists of our generation and infuses their respective identities with a younger, more approachable perspective.
8. M.I.A. – Matangi
I always hope that each new year will bring me a new burn-shit-down-to-the-sounds-of-this album, and 2013 delivered in droves. Specifically, it delivered impressively with Matangi, M.I.A.’s fourth studio album. Like no other, M.I.A. continues to merge politics and pop (“You’re fucked!” and “Fuck you!”) with post-modern expertise. For further evidence of the clarity of M.I.A.’s vision, do some Googling of her appearance at Super Bowl XLVI (and the resulting $5 million lawsuit).
7. The 1975 – The 1975
I refrained from touching this album – and this band, in general – for much longer than I should have. Whenever I miss the pre-explosion of praise waves rippling through tastemaker blogs splashing about a “band of the moment,” I am initially peeved. I don’t surf, but I would imagine it’s the digital equivalent of missing a great wave. This logic is inherently narcissistic and stupid and, thankfully, I realized this before bypassing The 1975 altogether. Ignore the hype and decide for yourself: you’ll be greatly rewarded with a collection of truly cool, almost Prince-like examples of how to make sensuality really work in guitar music.
(Read Will’s BHAMFM piece on their album release here)
6. Pusha T – My Name is My Name
Though Pusha T may remain the unspoken hero of no-frills, words-first, fuck-the-hook style hip hop, it’d be ridiculous to view the production on My Name is My Name as a mere backdrop. Each sonic nuance is engineered to bring forth the clearest interpretation of Pusha T’s dense storytelling.
5. Twenty One Pilots – Vessel
I caught this inspiringly unique “indietronica” duo at WorkPlay earlier this year, by sheer chance. Watching a band without any foreknowledge of their respective work can be a catastrophically bewildering experience. My generation, for better (sometimes best) or worse (sometimes worst), simply isn’t wired to view art without at least a small amount of preconceived notions. I was surprised, then, to find myself anything but bewildered after their set. In fact, I spent the remainder of the year closely following this band’s cultural dints – both big and small. Vessel isn’t a perfect album, but it’s one of the most interesting and identity-sure albums from/for this demographic since, say, Fall Out Boy’s From Under the Cork Tree.
4. Wavves – Afraid of Heights
This is probably the only straight up “rock” album I was able to enjoy this year. Wavves brainchild Nathan Williams is a captivating frontman, sure; but he’s even more captivating when viewed as the proverbial poster-child for accessible grunge pop / lo-fi noise rock. On Afraid of Heights, Nathan shows some truly expert signs of restraint and awareness, something often lacking from previous releases. Some of my friends liken Wavves to a “glossier Nirvana,” which is fair but not entirely accurate. I like to imagine this is what pre-superstardom Blink-182 would have sounded like if Pitchfork, as we know them today, would have been around to love them.
It’s no surprise to anyone who even remotely knows me that I unabashedly adore each Tegan and Sara album with a consistent outpouring of remarkably loyal intensity. After 2007’s The Con, I started to ponder the now surely inevitable evolution of Tegan & Sara into a shiny pop duo, equal parts 80s/90s hyper-gloss and a uniquely 00s sense of endearingly inflated self-awareness. Heartthrob brings all of that to fruition and more. The lead single “Closer” was exactly what I expected, and the album itself follows the same blueprint. This is the sound and look of a band becoming what they already were, but weren’t always brave enough to admit: a pop powerhouse.
2. Childish Gambino – Because the Internet
For my thoughts on Donald Glover’s immersive anti-dissertation on all things Internet, read my BHAMFM review on the album here.
1. Kanye West – Yeezus
I couldn’t say much here about Yeezus that hasn’t already been said. I was lucky enough to attend the Yeezus tour last month in Atlanta (in my eyes, a necessary companion piece to the album itself), but I’m even luckier to simply exist in the same era as Kanye West. Every generation has its Beatles, for lack of a better phrase, and ours has been staring us directly in the eyes since his early production work on some of Jay Z’s biggest hits of the early 00s. Though the
less culturally informed try vehemently to deny Kanye his place in art history as the mover and shaker he so clearly is (see: the disgusting irony that Yeezus was largely shut out of this year’s Grammy nominations, an awards arena Kanye has commanded a staggering 21 times), they clearly forget that history isn’t written by self-proclaimed experts on such. Instead, history writes itself; meaning Kanye West exists in every paragraph from the year 2000 onward.