2014 is here, which means year-end listing season is officially over. We made it, guys. As we close the books on 2013, the year’s critics have formed a loose consensus, the albums that have been recommended over and over and over. So in the interest of giving you a break from all the Kanye West recommendations (what a find!), we’re spending our final 2013 reflection on the littler albums that got swept under all the Vampire Weekend superlatives. We didn’t want them to get lost, so we took Metacritic’s meta-albums of the year list and found a suitable recommendation for each one. Listen to these before you christen your new Dilbert calendar.
#1 Kanye West, Yeezus
Suggestion: Pusha T, My Name Is My Name
Yeezus garnered the majority of attention – how could it not, with Kanye projecting himself on buildings across America, declaring himself a god and demanding croissants? – but it was just one of Kanye West’s major achievements of 2013. The other was finally bringing the world the solo debut from Pusha T, formerly of Clipse, released on his GOOD Music vanity label.
Kanye The Artist & Kanye The Media Personality now overshadow his original claim to fame as Kanye The Producer, but it’s still the main reason we should be paying attention. The best of My Name Is My Name (not coincidentally, the songs produced by Kanye) bends the same breathtaking stripped-down, minimalist production vision as Yeezus to Pusha T’s cocaine-fuelled street rap. Just as Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury was a high point for The Neptunes, My Name is one of Kanye’s best moments behind the decks.
#2 Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires Of The City
Suggestion: Rhye, Woman
We could have said Born Ruffians or GIVERS, but would that really have made you happy? A little too on the nose. We nearly threw down Mikal Cronin’s MCII because they both owe something to Paul Simon, and more importantly it’s a cool record that we wanted to see on the list. But what’s most remarkable about the Ariel Rechtshaid-produced Modern Vampire of the City is how seamlessly Vampire Weekend turfed their “African guitars” to embrace R&B and Gospel as their base mode. Sure, “Diane Young” has a serious Elvis-rockabilly thing going on, but so much of the album is characterized by Koenig’s pleading choruses set to a warm Hammond.
So, in exchange, we give you L.A. via Toronto and Denmark soul-pop puppies Rhye. Think of Woman as MVOTC if it had gotten a hold of that Adderall it’s been begging for, lost all of those outbursts and crazy tics, and finally learned to just settle back into its seat and hang out for a second. If you can appreciate “Everlasting Arms,” and you don’t mind something a little more economical, then “The Fall” shouldn’t be a far stretch.
#3 Arcade Fire, Reflektor
Suggestions: Colin Stetson, New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light
Sarah Neufeld, Hero Brother
As tempting as it is to give this one to an actual Haitian band and put the “exchange” in “cultural exchange” for them, we’ll take this opportunity to big-up some of the smaller releases lost in Arcade Fire’s promotional blitz. Beneath the hype campaign, a couple members of Arcade Fire’s larger orbit released much lower key albums that could benefit from a little Reflektor push.
Real-life couple Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld play saxophone and violin in Arcade Fire, respectively, but that barely scrapes the surface of the compositional and athletic prowess of their (mostly) instrumental solo albums, New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light and Hero Brother. Both albums are testaments to the amazing things you can do with (mostly) just a single instrument.
#4 Daft Punk, Random Access Memories
Suggestion: Darkside, Psychic
Okay, so Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington made this one real easy on us by earlier covering/remixing all of Random Access Memories, but their debut LP as Darkside would be an easy comparison regardless. Like Daft Punk they created a hybrid of futuristic electronic music and AOR classic rock standards like Pink Floyd and Dire Straits, but they did it without the overblown budget of their robotic brethren. It doesn’t sound anywhere near as overblown either, though it is satisfyingly epic, and attains the warmth that Daft Punk aimed for but lost hold of in the excess.
#5 Lorde, Pure Heroine
Suggestion: Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time
If you’ve ever been less than 100% convinced that the music industry is a baseless, fickle business, consider the stories of New Zealand wunderkind Lorde and L.A. scenester Sky Ferreira. The former was handpicked by Universal when she was 13, making a racket on her debut Pure Heroine by rallying against the very pop machine that raised her up. While the latter, with a strikingly similar voice and aesthetic, waited on the peripheries of the industry, searching for an entrance, begging for somebody, anybody please to let her in for years and years, until finally, this go-around, she found the alchemy to arrive. Each engendered that precocious, jaded pose, the stock-in-trade of both, their own way: Lorde was born with that streak, but it was ground into Ferreira.
#6 Arctic Monkeys, AM
Suggestion: Blood Orange, Cupid Deluxe
Arctic Monkeys very consciously shifted their sound for AM, abandoning the earlier hyperactive nu-garage Strokes stomp once and for all in favour of a sexier, groove-based sound. Dev Hynes took a similar path to a similar place – from a too of-the-moment fad-relying sound as a youngster in Test Icicles through Lightspeed Champion to the undeniably slinky Blood Orange brand of pop-funk – but he seems to have gotten there in a much more natural, organic way. After writing songs for Solange and Sky Ferreira, he finally brings that pop sense to his own music, delivering the best album of his multi-pronged career in the process.
#7 Chance The Rapper, Acid Rap
Suggestion: Vic Mensa, INNANETAPE
Chancelor Bennett, a.k.a. Chance The Rapper debuted in 2012 with his 10 Day mixtape, earning so many downloads that it landed the high school senior an opening spot for Childish Gambino and Joey Bada$$. Following the break-up of Chicago’s Kids These Days, Chance put hometown buddy Vic Mensa on “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” a track to be included on his next release. When that 2013 mixtape, Acid Rap, came down, it was so hot that it crashed hosting sites Audiomack and Fake Shore Drive, and after we finally got our hands on it, we raised the thing up to hip hop AOTY beside Yeezus and Danny Brown’s Old.
In the Fall, Mensa put out a little mixtape of his own, packing it with buzzy guest spots by Ab-Soul, BJ The Chicago Kid, Thundercat, and, of course, his pal Chance. Both rappers work around that intersection of hip hop and jazz, both affect the same self-conscious, overthinker’s brand of rap, and somehow still, both make it seem super fun to be a 20-year-old rising star, with a mind full of dope and a mouth full of orange soda, running wild in the Windy City.
#8 Savages, Silence Yourself
Suggestion: Weekend, Jinx
Yes, Silence Yourself is an impressively self-assured debut, and yes the live show is an intense, clenched-jaw Ian Curtis death disco, but the hype storm that surrounded their debut seemed to suggest Savages were the only band playing dark, gothy post-punk in 2013. Not so. Take Weekend, whose sophomore album Jinx takes their spectral drone and cleans it up juuuust enough to hear the hooks. And if you’re looking for even more, check out this roundup of bands leading Slumberland Records into the next generation.
#9 My Bloody Valentine, m b v
Suggestion: No Joy, Wait To Pleasure
My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless is one of the Talmudic texts of indie rock. We’re not going to sit here and tell you that what’s-his-face or so and so sounds like Kevin Shield’s 2013 surprise gift, m b v, because truth is: near-everybody sounds a little like My Bloody Valentine, and nobody is as good as sounding like My Bloody Valentine as My Bloody Valentine. But if you’re looking for our favourite release that can variously be described as fuzzy, noisy, and perhaps as though it were made while gazing at one’s shoes, No Joy’s Wait to Pleasure is a fun exercise in all of those things. “Hare Tarot Lies” is a half-speed spin under the disco ball in some unmade film about coke. “Lizard Kids” hums like a Saturday down at the speedway. A little something for everyone.
#10 Disclosure, Settle
Suggestion: Thundercat, Apocalypse
Surrey’s young Lawrence brothers, better known as Disclosure, had a breakout year as far as dance acts go. Settle was this shape-shifting disco, R&B, loungey affair. You probably put it on when your cool friends came over for drinks and you wanted to shuffle around a bit. If you can handle something a little jazzier, maybe a little more soulful, try Thundercat’s bombastic Apocalypse released on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder. Then you will truly feel cool. Fun party fact: Thundercat did a stint on bass with thrash legends Suicidal Tendencies. But that’s just how versatile Thundercat is — total virtuoso.