When I posted my best albums of the year, I clarified that I haven’t listened to enough non-rap albums to make completely informed decisions about what the best actually was. So when I wrote about Haim and Beyonce, it’s more how they appealed to me rather than how they fit into the context of the rest of the year. But even though hip hop is the dominant genre now, other great music has been released and I recruited someone to write about it! Betzalel Massarano is a great critic and a talented musician and he’s written about his own favorite albums of 2013. Give him a warm welcome and let us know if we missed anything in the comments!
2013 was undoubtedly a fantastic year for hiphop (Yeezus. Old. Acid Rap. Run The Jewels. Kendrick’s “Control” verse. Kendrick’s BET Cypher verse. Shabba. Gas Pedal. VersaceVersaceVersaceVersace. Ka. Earl. Rocky. Pusha T. J Cole. Fine, fucking Drake.) In the spirit of contrarianism, here’s a bunch of non-hiphop albums that came out this year that I really liked.
Poliça – Shulamith
Listen to “Tiff,” the closest thing to a lead-off single this album’s got, and contrast the elements with today’s dominant pop sound: Bass that’s nimble, sparse, electronically truncated rather than monolithic, amplified, spotlight-hogging. Ticking hi-hats that sound like actual wood on metal rather than a MaXXXTrapTWRKBEATZZZ loop pack. Channy Leaneagh’s beautifully smeared voice, which sounds like a distant astral being singing in an impossibly vast, dark void, strangely formed syllables twisting and drifting off like solar flares. Poliça sound like the music I imagined cool grown-ups listened to when I was young.
James Blake – Overgrown
James Blake makes simplicity transcendent. Consider “I Am Sold,” with Blake’s fallen-angel/alien croon of “And we lay nocturnal/Speculate what we feel” hanging over icy cymbal washes, stuttering snare, and a two-note spy-movie bassline. Or album standout Retrograde, with its single-handclap beat and hummed melodic motif. This album is achingly, sublimely beautiful. See him live if you get the chance. (Ed. Note: Plus it has a track with the mighty RZA, so there’s that).
King Krule – 6 Feet Beneath The Moon
Much has been written on the contrast between Archie Marshall’s slight frame and weighty voice, which sounds like treacle being mournfully poured into the bathroom sink of an empty nightclub at 4AM. Marshall’s voice is the blunt instrument with which he bludgeons his demons into reluctant submission. The instrumentation is spot-on, with sneering post-punk freakouts sharing space with loping jazz drums and brittle, subdued Telecaster picking, each element channeling different strains of melancholy. 6 Feet Beneath The Moon is not a cheerful album, but it will help you through the tough times.
Portugal. The Man – Evil Friends
This album missed a lot of year-end lists, and it’s easy to see why. It’s inconstant. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table, with its MGMT-meets-Black Keys brand of late-2000’s garage rock. It was produced by Danger Mouse, whose cultural relevance has been a dubious proposition since, I don’t know, 2006? John Gourley’s vocals are whiny and/or irritating. Nothing about it sounds distinctly 2013. All of these are valid claims. However, it’s still the catchiest damn album released the year. Listen to the chorus of “Modern Jesus.” Do it. I’ll wait. Congratulations, it’s now stuck in your head for the next month. You’re welcome.
Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Daze
The best summer album of 2013, bar none. Nothing about this album feels hurried, or harried, or at all removed from the hey-man-everything’s-good plane of existence Kurt Vile inhabits. No apocalyptic synths or hyperactive drum machines here. Just loping, meandering ‘70s rock radio tunes that alternately stomp and mosey, showcasing Vile’s fluid, self-assured guitar licks and dangerously mellow vocals. 2013 was a damn stressful year, and this album is pure anti-stress. Tune in, turn on, chill out.
The National – Trouble Will Find Me
(In the interest of originality, I will attempt to get through this review without using the following phrases: “Melancholy.” “Dad rock.” “Baritone.” “Existential.” “American Dream.” “Aged like fine wine.”) This is not my favorite National album (that would be 2007’s Boxer) or the most emotionally devastating National album (probably 2005’s Alligator). It is, however, the most National National album, meaning it takes all the elements we have come to associate with their sound – the cathartic crescendos, the propulsive, deceptively complex drumming, Matt Berninger’s inimitably craggy voice, the guitars that chime and sob and layer into gorgeous strata of noise and hurt– and turns them up to 11. The result is a staggeringly powerful, sometimes overbearing, and impeccably composed album, one which requires many listens to sink in and many, many more to get old.
Honorable Mentions: CHVRCHES – The Bones Of What You Believe.
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City. (Ed. Note: Yuck.)
Toro y Moi – Anything In Return.
Savages – Silence Yourself.
Burial – Rival Dealer EP.
Deafheaven – Sunbather.
Majical Cloudz – Impersonator.