2013 has definitely been an INTERESTING year so far for music. Let’s not even talk about what’s going on at Radio, but the album releases this year have displayed a wide range of talents, older and younger stars, and Indie stars hitting it big. There was a big lack of Superstar releases, so it was easy to escape the Top 40 Mainstream grid and dive into a very diverse pool of music.
Here is my take on the year thus far, and instead of doing the traditional Top 10 lists, I’m gonna break down my favorite and least favorite albums in Three groups. The Disappointing, The Decent and The Best. I have to admit though, I haven’t been keeping up with ALL the 2013 releases. There was a time this year (like three weeks ago lol) when I was obsessed with George Michael and especially his Grammy winning “Faith” album. And even currently I’m on a Mariah Carey kick, so this list might be a little scant. Rhye, J Cole, A$AP Rocky and Chrisette Michelle are just a few of the artists I NEED to check out. And I will, but for now here’s my 6 months report.
Timberlake “The 20/20 Experience”
At the top of this list, for me, is Justin Timberlake‘s “The 20/20 Experience” (1 of 2, because of course he has to bleed his fans dry of all their money), and simply because I had the highest expectations for it. If you go back to my “First Impression” review you’ll see I rated the album way too high with a 8.5. Ever since that first listen, I find myself really bored with the album which has him lyrically talking about the same old things (love, dancing, love and dancing again), his vocals are solid but not really impressive or surprising. And the overall production just feels dated, add the fact that the extended length of the songs in general are worthless. “Mirrors” and “Don’t Hold the Wall” are the two songs whose second halves are amazing and save the dullness of the first halves. For the most part though, these long songs just slow the album down. Still digging that “Strawberry Bubblegum” though.
“Out of My League” is one of my favorite recent radio singles, it’s so fun and catchy but it set my expectations for Fitz and the Tantrums‘ “More Than Just a Dream” way too high. The album doesn’t live up to that single for a variety of reasons. For one, “Dream” feels a little bit like a failed attempt at ripping off Human League, with it’s male/female vocals and 80’s feel. The most disappointing thing is the fact that the album rarely ever matches the Fun, Pep, and POP of “League”, you have the duo taking themselves way too seriously vocally and lyrically on a majority of the album. If they had lightened up it could have been pretty good, unfortunately it is what it is.
Toro Y Moi released “Anything in Return”, and while I wasn’t expecting much from the album, it didn’t leave any impression on me at all. Unlike his previous album ” Underneath The Pine” which I enjoyed despite the thin-ness of Toro’s singing voice. This one was just a little TOO laid back, and while it was pleasant, it was totally forgettable.
Kelly Rowland “Talk a Good Game”
The problem with Kelly Rowland‘s 4th album “Talk a Good Game” is that it sounds like a regular Contemporary R&B Album. There are some excellent stand outs including “Red Wine” (possibly her best song ever), “I Remember” and “Kisses Down Low”, but the overall feeling of the album is that it’s a Producers album and not a album that shines a light on the talents and uniqueness of the artist.
Unlike Kelly Rowland (who guests on stand out track “Without Me“), Fantasia was able to make an R&B album and not lose who she is as an artist. “Side Effects of Me” is diverse, in that it goes from Contemporary R&B to Traditional R&B to Pop and Funk, and a lot of the material is top notch. Great writing, amazing vocals, perfect production, this album has it all. Unfortunately it’s not all that consistent, as I generally skip maybe every other track when listening. Still, there is enough here to at least make it one of the better R&B albums of the year.
Yes, I’m sure everybody shared a joke or two about Snoop Dogg changing his name to Snoop Lion for his Reggae/Dancehall inspired album “Reincarnated”. I personally thought the transition made sense, and I was actually surprised that I enjoyed the album as much as I did. And HELLA surprised that his track with Miley Cyrus, “Ashtrays and Heartbreaks“, was my ultimate favorite. The problem, Snoop doesn’t have a voice that’s ready for Reggae. He’s a little too laid back vocally on some tracks where he needs to channel the hype-ness of Beenie Man. And he doesn’t have that natural patois to smoothen out other tracks. The great thing, he has lots of collaborators who take the focus off of him. And at the end of the day, with the help of Diplo, there are some undeniable grooves that make you forget about the corniness that sometimes encounters the album.
Even though I’m a huge Diplo fan, and even though Major Lazer‘s last full length album “Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazer’s Do” gave me so much life, I have to say their second album “Free the Universe” was disappointing. What makes it decent is the fact that you are gonna get exactly what you got on “Guns”, which is fun and infectious Dancehall/Reggae grooves. This album definitely makes a person wanna get up and dance, but there are some cons about the album. The mixing of very Electronic vibes doesn’t always mesh well, and just overall it feels like a continuation of “Guns” instead of it’s own thing. “Get Free” is still one of the best songs I’ve heard, and tracks like “Jet Blue Jet” “Mashup The Dance” and “You’re No Good” are definitely worthy of the price of the album.
James Blake “Overgrown”
James Blake had my #1 album of 2011, and I can’t lie “Overgrown” is a very nice album. While it’s very much true to the same vibe of his debut, this album actually does take Blake into new terrain. It’s even more moody, and some of the production techniques like the sampling and the guest rappers add something new. He’s still got that soul in his voice, and the tracks are very exciting and engrossing. Good album, just not the Greatness I know Blake is capable of. Maybe next time.
I have to be completely honest with you guys when talking about Baths‘ album “Obsidian”, I actually JUST listened to it this week. However, just from one or two listens I really have to say the album totally got my attention and managed to be a break out album from all of the stuff I’ve listened to this year. Like James Blake, Baths seems to be a very unique artist as the album has this weird electronic/pop/ambient/organic mix up that is hard to compare to any other artist (okay, MAYBE Alt-J). It’s in The Decent group now, but I can imagine after several listens I’ll fall in love.
I LOVED (x20) Local Natives‘ debut album “Gorilla Manor“, and was so excited for the follow up “Hummingbird” . My initial impression was that the album was too similar to the debut, but that debut was so strong, with it’s beautifully orchestrated instrumentation, compelling melodies and great writing, that being similar wasn’t as much of a bad thing. And honestly, as the year progresses I do find myself coming back to certain tracks and I CAN play the album all the way through without much skipping. I just wish it was more of an elevated sound for them, wishing they’d pushed themselves further artistically.
In regards to the Cold War Kids, I LOVE their song “Miracle Mile” and was excited to hear what their album “Dear Miss Lonelyhearts” would sound like. The album is definitely decent (hence, why it’s in the Decent group) with some nice, drum-heavy, tracks and a handful of really good songs. The problem, for me, is the lead singers voice which at times is very grating. His strain-y falsetto just turns me off on a lot of the tracks and detracts from the potential of the album, however I’d still recommend it because some of you have a higher tolerance for screechy/whiney vocals.
Another radio single I fell in love with recently was “Sweater Weather” from The Neighbourhood. There’s something about the laid back vibe and the cadence of the lead vocalist that just felt so great together, and had me anticipating a potentially great album from the group. “I Love You.” is a good album, but you are basically going to get what you got from “Sweater Weather”. It does have some really good songs on there, but the only problem is that altogether the songs seem to muddle together. I think the fact that most of the songs share that same sort of Dark, laid back vibe makes it hard to differentiate. Still worth checking out though.
It’s hard to say what my problem is with Phoenix‘s “Bankrupt!“. It’s a far cry from their previous album “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” which I found to be a bit of a masterpiece, but this new album isn’t bad. It’s just slightly dull in comparison to their last effort. And the lukewarm response I had when I heard this albums first single “Entertainment” is the way I feel about the album on the whole, It’s very much a decent album but it just lacks something that is hard to put my finger on. Maybe I just need to listen to it more, but overall the album was one of my most anticipated and quickly became one I rarely listen to.
“The Next Day” by David Bowie, his first album in nearly Ten years. Yes, as I said in my review earlier in the year, the album is really good. It’s good in the fact that it feels like a throwback to his entire Discography. It really is a good album with some really great, fun, emotional songs. I just have to admit that over the year I haven’t felt the need to go back to it often.
Only slightly disappointed with Kanye West‘s 6th solo album “Yeezus”, which overall I do think is great and another perfect addition to his catalog. The thing that disappointed me was that it is similar to his older stuff. Not so much production wise because on “Yeezus” Kanye goes a lot darker, a lot more punk-ish, and a lot more experimental. Lyrically though, he’s not talking about anything we haven’t heard him talk about before. The race problem in America, problems with the black community, problems with women, and so on and so on. West is more aggressive in his delivery, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’ve been there with him. Overall though, it’s another great risk taking album.
Atlas Genius “When It Was Now”
I became an Atlas Genius fan the very first time I heard their hit “Trojans“. It’s an amazingly catchy alterna-song that deserves (imo) to be a much bigger hit, and I was very happy when I listened to “When It Was Now”, their debut album, because my expectations were basically met. The album is very diverse, it has it’s fun moments, it has it’s moments of great artistry. Let’s be real though, the duo isn’t afraid to do something light, as this album isn’t really all that Hard-Rocking and a lot more Pop leaning. It’s just a great album whose songs attach themselves to your brain. I was happy not to be let down, and hope they continue to grow as their career continues.
It has to be hard for Jay-Z at this point, on his 12th solo album “Magna Carta… Holy Grail”, you would imagine it’s starting to get difficult for the Hip Hop Legend to come up with new and interesting things to rap about. So, maybe on this album he just didn’t worry about it, but cultivated some of the best tracks he could get his hands on. The beauty of this album is the throwback feel of it, the tone of the tracks takes you back to 1998 when Jay was releasing his “In My Lifetime” trilogy. Working with Swizz Beatz and Timbaland recalls that soundscape of late-90’s Hip Hop and the production overall is Excellent here. He’s still ONE OF the Greatest Rappers Alive, and he manages to hold his own, but the overall “old school” feel of the entire album makes it a winner.
After “Angles“, The Strokes‘ previous album, I was a little put off by the group. That album had it’s gems, but they were far and few between as they were definitely trying to escape the Garage Rock Band sound they are so good at. “Comedown Machine” really surprised me, because for the most part, every song is a winner here. The Strokes keep the experimentation going on this album, but they also manage to balance new sounds with what makes them a great Rock band. The album shows diversity, and a willingness to try new things (like Casablanca’s falsetto) and there’s hardly any complaints I have about the album, which I listen to quite frequently.
The most surprising album for me this year came from Vampire Weekend, a group that I enjoy, but a group that I really wasn’t expecting much from. “Diane Young” hit radio and I instantly loved it, and I was really pleased to find that their 3rd album “Modern Vampires of the City” matched that song and beyond. The song is upbeat, catchy, glitchy and fun and there are several cuts on this album that have a similar quality. The greatest thing about this outing is it seems the band stepped out of their comfort zone a bit, playing with electronic effects and amping their style up with intensity and humor. It’s always great to me when a group can grow without growing out of their original sound. Bravo Vampires, Bravo! Great Album.
Daft Punk “Random Access Memories”
And that leaves Daft Punk‘s “Random Access Memories“. This isn’t a list that ordered from worst to best, BUT I will say that this album is the one I was most impressed with on first listen, and the album that I keep going back to, discovering new favorite songs every time I do. The album is familiar to the Daft Punk sound, but with all the features from Pharrell, to Paul Williams to Julian Casablanca and with the insane live instrumentation and the soulful sexy Disco vibe permeating through the album, it’s just a very cohesive, very enjoyable album with lots of diversity. In a career that’s well over 10 years, it’s great to find a duo that steps their game up and making what might be one of their best albums yet.
So there you have it. Let’s see what these next few months bring.
Honorable Mentions and 2012 Albums I Still Bump!
Solange “True” EP
Alt-J “An Awesome Wave”
Kelly Clarkson “Greatest Hits: Chapter One”
Animal Collective “Centipede Hz”
Tame Impala “Lonerism”
Ed Sheeran “+”
Calvin Harris “18 Months”
Outasight “Nights Like These”
fun. “Some Nights”