January 7, 2014

Max Bellwas once traded for Pau Gasol.

Some pale and anemic soul slumped behind a computer will soon devise an algorithm compiling a list of all the lists on the Internet. Said meta-list will be outdated the minute it goes up; that is unless there’s some automatic refresh built-in. Until that ominous day the Mayans never could’ve foreseen on their calendars (which are essentially lists), here’s another for the digital pyre.

Below you’ll find albums from 2013 I felt were either overlooked, poorly covered, or left off of year-end lists — this site’s included. These are albums I listened to more than a handful of times; albums I feel will still take up much needed computer hard drive space in 2014. The list is alphabetical according to artist because numbers are on the board elsewhere.

As with all lists, there are omissions. If your favorite album hasn’t shown up on this site by now, leave a comment, make a list of your own, or take to Twitter to shout that artist (and album) out. Your 140 characters matter, and discourse, however confined or restrained, is still discourse.

BonoboThe North Borders [Ninja Tune]

Bonobo is inimitable at crafting swirling, driving suites that are equally inviting and undemanding. You can meditate on each layer of sound, or play his songs in the background. The North Borders, Bonobo’s first LP in three years, beautifully adheres to the aforementioned sonic roadmap while still finding new ways to venture off the beat(en) path. Never has Bonobo’s predilection for UK garage and house meshed with his hip-hop and world music influences so well (see “Cirrus”). And his work with vocalists like Erykah Badu has never been so inspired (see “Heaven for the Sinner”). With this album, the borders have been realized and atomized.

Cam’ronMy Ghetto Heaven Vol. 1 [Self-released]

The Dipset reunion has been spotty and suspect; the rift may never be wholly mended. Fortunately, Killa finally delivered on his promise of new solo music. Though My Ghetto Heaven Vol. 1 isn’t the Cam of the early aughts (Come Home With Me, Purple Haze), it’s damn close. The lyrics are anything but lazy, and the production hews closer to Heatmakerz’s sped-up, chipmunk soul Cam has always shined on. He’s hilarious without using punch lines as a crutch, and there’s just something about eloquent coke raps paired with ‘80s pop (“Golden Friends”).  Maybe it’s a more authentic portrayal of the times.

CastleGasface [Mello Music Group]

North Carolina’s Castle is quietly becoming one of the best rappers (and producers) the state has ever delivered. Gasface is his opening MMG salvo, akin to taking the head of the guy who runs the comic book shop and leaving with all Punisher issues in stock. The rhymes are sharp yet casually delivered, covering everything from the plight of those caught in the gears of the minimum wage machine (“Orientation”) to the dangers of slanging (“Krillz”). And Castle proves himself a loop digger’s loop digger, the beats ranging from the soulful to psychedelic to the sci-fi. Do not dismiss this man. More importantly, do not give him the gas face.

Crystal AntlersNothing Is Real [Innovative Leisure

Crystal Antlers will forever be mislabeled. That, or they will always be labeled unlabelable, which isn’t even a word. Nothing is Real won’t help this cause. The album is all over the map in terms of genre – punk, garage, lo-fi, psych. But all the blurred lines boil down to some of the most hard-hitting and honest rock around. These are songs of unabashed angst, the lessons of early adulthood wrestled with and begrudgingly applied. Front man Jonny Bell’s vocals have never been better, and his dynamic bass work deserves all commendation. Genres are only real if you give a fuck about them. Crystal Antlers give no fucks, and the result is surreal.

Curren$y New Jet City [Self-released]

For the first time in three years Curren$y didn’t make our year-end album list. This isn’t a slight to Spitta. A lot of great material dropped this year. That said, had New Jet City been one of Spitta’s first offerings, I think it would’ve made the cut. Curren$y devotees often take his potent prolificacy for granted. Thus, while New Jet City is nothing new for the stoned pilot – weed, women, cars, kicks, etc. – the beats and rhymes are still undeniably smooth, and the replay value is, well, high. This is the best Curren$y project of 2013, and it’s baffling that “Choosin” didn’t catapult Curren$y on to national radio.

Denmark Vessey Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid [Dirty Science]

Along with Danny Brown and Quelle Chris, Denmark Vessey continues to make sure the D is more than well represented (sorry, Eminem). Don’t Drink the Kool Aid is one of the best free projects of 2013 that enough people aren’t talking about. It’s intelligent, political, hilarious, and reminds me why I listen to rap. Vessey has battle raps for days, and unflinchingly dissects every facet of life for rappers and the poverty-stricken masses – the two aren’t always mutually exclusive – with a sharp journalistic eye. There are also Seinfeld and He Got Game references in the same song (“They Schweepy”). And “Murder Raps” is the best song about homicide from last year. My advice? Drink Vessey’s brand of Kool Aid deeply and check out his latest LP, Cult Classic.

GiraffageNeeds [Self-released]

With Needs Giraffage has created the near perfect synthesis of trap, pop, and electronic-based R&B. It’s head nodding that pulls on your heartstrings, break up music for those not yet ready to break down. The clipped and chopped vocal samples paired with jagged yet dreamy glitch of the production create a mobile mosaic of fractured vital organs. And yet an undercurrent of hope holds the record together, the hope for reconciliation and maybe even new love. If you haven’t yet gleaned so from the above oversentimentality, Needs makes me feel some type of way.

Hanni El KhatibHead in the Dirt [Innovative Leisure

The blues must be kept alive. As long as Jack White’s heart keeps beating, we needn’t worry. But there must be others to keep the genre well and drinking gallons of whiskey. Hanni El Khatib is one of the others, blurring the lines between blues, rock, punk, and soul in search of his own spoonful. Head in the Dirt is his second LP, one responsible for some of the best music videos of the year (see “Family” or “Pay No Mind”). It’s also just over thirty minutes of the nonstop foot stopping, with bone crushing anthems for bank robbers (“Nobody Move”) and blood brothers (“Family”) alike. A forward-thinking throwback, Head in the Dirt is the sound of atavism on the attack.

ShigetoNo Better Time Than Now [Ghostly]

Admittedly, I never listened to Shigeto prior to 2013’s No Better Time Than Now. Until our own Chris Daly brought his album to my attention, I had zero knowledge of the Ann Arbor native. But I haven’t stopped listening to No Better Time… since. The beats are mellow and meditative, perfect for closed eyes and big headphones. There’s a pervasive eeriness here — the man is on a label called Ghostly for a reason — but that spectral quality is often warmer than you might expect. If you haven’t checked out Shigeto yet, there’s no better time to start.

Steve Arrington + Dam-FunkHigher [Stones Throw]

Do not persecute the funk, especially if it’s from Dayton. That Dayton funk is true. Basically, former Slave drummer and vocalist Steve Arrington is someone for whom you should reserve all reverence. His debut Stones Throw project with Pasadena extraterrestrial Dam-Funk, Higher, is the fated collaboration of mentor and modern day genre innovator. With Dam-Funk behind the keytar and Arrington on the mic, this album is essential whether you be trippin or going hard. It’s not mind-blowing, but it’s some of the best modern funk this side of the galaxy. If Higher aims to keep the Clinton’s mothership in orbit, it passes flying the day-glo colors of the freak flag.

Wooden ShjipsBack to Land [Thrill Jockey]

There are innumerable revivalist ‘60s psychedelic bands in garages from the Bay to L.A. One is often hardly distinguishable from the next. But San Francisco’s Wooden Shjips rise above the fray, adding their own textural twists to the genre/era instead of outright plagiarizing from Elecktra’s Nuggets compilation. Back to Land is their latest spacey LP. As with previous projects, these songs begin in full groove with no come up, like the fastest acting acid around. The reverent nods to their influences are a little obvious at times, but spirit of Morrison and The Doors will always find a way. Some might argue that these songs don’t reinvent the psychedelic. But whatever the case, they make the proverbial trip all the more enjoyable.

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