As I finally got around to putting together this list, I came to the disappointing realization that I did not listen to very much new music in 2013. Sure, I had other things going on (things that come to mind include... this, getting my wife pregnant, graduating law school, studying for the Bar exam, taking the Bar exam, traveling to Spain, passing the Bar exam, starting a new job, helping my wife give birth to our beautiful little girl...), but when I organized iTunes to show what new music I'd added in 2013, it was pretty pitiful. So, I'm going to make an effort to seek out more new music in 2014. And with the caveat that I didn't listen to much in 2013, here is the list:
10. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels
Bad-ass beats plus hardcore rhymes? Check. New York attitude plus Atlanta steez? Check. Def Jux starter plus Dungeon Family affiliate, with some high profile friends thrown in for good measure? Check. This is a damn good rap album.
9. Shad - Flying Colours
I'm a Shad fan. This guy can really flow. I mean, really really really flow. Did you watch the above video? I mean, damn. Throw in some fun takes about how to tell a story ("He Say She Say") and some interesting political commentary ("Progress") and you have a solid album.
8. The National - Trouble Will Find Me
Trendy pick, I know. Would you believe this is the sixth album by The National? The authors of this blog were freshmen in college when their first album came out. We are getting old. But I digress. Good is good. And this is good.
7. Sol - Eyes Open EP
Sol was one of fourteen 2011 University of Washington Bonderman Travel Fellowship winners, meaning he got to travel the world on someone else's dime. To get the free trip, he had to visit at least two continents and six countries, and he couldn't come home for eight months. So Sol spent 2012 traveling in Africa, Southeast Asia, South America, and the Caribbean. Then he came back and made this album.
6. Haim - Days Are Gone
Thank you Tanner for introducing me to this weird, wonderful LA indie group. One review explains that the band makes "music that sounds like it was written on a lakeside retreat attended by Stevie Nicks, John Waite and En Vogue." That is ridiculous, but as someone who listened to both En Vogue records (mine) and Stevie Nicks records (my parents) in my house growing up, I happily embrace this. Also, I like to imagine the band is named in tribute to this guy.
5. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
If you claim you don't dance and sing along when this song comes on in the car, you are lying to yourself and everyone else. And you are an asshole. The Grammys agree with me.
4. Chance the Rapper - Acid Rap
2010 - Be an up and coming Chicago rapper.
2011 - Get suspended from high school for 10 days.
2012 - Release a mixtape called "10 Days." Gain notoriety while still in high school.
2013 - Release a second mixtape. Get a lot more notoriety. Get over 250,000 downloads on DatPiff.com. Become bros with Childish Gambino. Make a guest appearance on a Justin Bieber track.
Not a bad couple of years.
3. The Physics - Digital Wildlife
New year. New sound. The Physics went in a different direction on this album, but I like the change. They created a wonderfully sonic mix that blends ambient sounds with strong beats and thoughtful lyrics, with a touch of soul. Who knew Thig Nat could sing? The album grows as you listen, and each new listen adds to my appreciation. This isn't just some "hey, we are from Seattle, look at us" rappety-rap album. This is complex, grown man (or woman) music.
2. Mayer Hawthorne - Where Does This Door Go
"Where Does This Door Go" sounds like something that Hall & Oates would co-sign. And I mean that as a HUGE compliment. Hawthorne channeled some late-70s soul and rock when crafting this masterpiece. Jamming synths, wailing guitars, bumping drums, charming tongue-in-cheek sexual innuendo, with a sprinkle of Pharrell and a splash of Kendrick -- this album has it all. This is what modern hip-hop-inspired soul with a twist of yacht rock should sound like. This is what Justin Timberlake's "The 20/20 Experience" wishes it could be.
1. Rhye - Woman
These guys are big on ambiguity. When I first heard songs from Rhye, I thought it was a female vocalist. Apparently I was not the only one. And they not only have an ambiguously gendered singer, but also each video produced for the album (see also this and this) tells a ambiguous story with an ambiguous relationship to the song itself. Well, Mike Milosh is not a woman, but he has a beautiful voice. And the songs on this album capture the sensuality, intimacy, and the ever-changing distance between people in a relationship. So let me be unambiguous: this is my favorite album of the year.