Undecided: Mass Appeal’s Favorite Albums Of 2013
We surveyed 10 writers on their favorite album of the year. The results reflect a wide array of genres and may surprise.
This is not about consensus. There was no room with a long conference table and a white board where minds were put together to create a waterproof list of the most important or influential or relevant albums of the year. As a matter of fact, those words have zero use for what’s below. Instead, we asked 10 Mass Appeal writers to pick their favorite album of the year. Does it have to be rap? Some asked. No it doesn’t. Does it have to be…? No. No rules. Forget all of the other lists and only write about the album you liked the best and played the most. Some notable omissions that were otherwise very good and received more than average play in the MA office: Trap Lord, Acid Rap, Black Panties, Extended Play, Watching Movie With the Sound Off, E$GN, Stay Trippy, and yes, Nothing Was the Same.
Danny Brown – Old
I was born and raised during the golden era of hip hop; the late ’80s/early ’90s. Back when you would cop a cassette and listen to the whole album without fast forwarding through weak tracks, because there were no weak tracks. Now we’re in a time where our attention spans are so weak that we illegally download individual songs instead of buying whole albums. But frankly, a lot of that has to do with the quality of the albums we’re being served. Now a days you’re lucky if there are 5 dope songs on an album of sixteen.
Danny Brown set out to rectify that. Old brings me back to the good ole’ days of hip hop, when buying an album meant that you would be spending the rest of the day listening to it over and over, non-stop. Brown brings it back so far that he even divided the album into a side A and B. What’s magic about Old, though, is that each song can stand on its own, but it’s even better when you just press play and let the album rock.
Old kicks off with a set of songs that reminisce about the ghost of hip hop past. In “25 Bucks” Brown spits about fond memories of sitting on the porch and letting someone’s momma braid your hair, for those who didn’t have that experience, think of the beginning of the “Gin and Juice” video. As the album progresses, he continues to blend the old with the new. He turns up on “Kush Coma” featuring A$AP Rocky and Zelooperz, definitely a party anthem to get lifted to; it proves how versatile the albums is. “What’s you’re favorite album of the year?” For me, it’s a no-brainer. – Tinora Locke
Diarrhea Planet – I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams
2013 saw a dizzying amount of excellent music released. So when Mass Appeal asked me for my absolute favorite record of the year, I was stumped. After thinking for a bit, I realized that was the problem. I was thinking too much, and when I stopped, there was only one record that consistently came up — Diarrhea Planet’s I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams.
Diarrhea Planet’s hook-laden thrashing pop-punk appeals to my inner visceral I.D. Since the Nashville-based band’s sophomore record was released back in August, it has been a non-stop listen in my car, at the gym, when I’m walking around the city, or when I’m home doing nothing. In a world where arty aspirations and synthesizers and complex arrangements become the pop norm, I found it thoroughly refreshing to hear a band that just wants to shred.
Diarrhea Planet makes pop-punk cool again. Their sound borrows from the genre’s progenitors like Husker Du and Screeching Weasel, taking raging and thrashing hardcore punk and infusing it with pop melodies and mega-addictive hooks, causing the listener to forget that New Found Glory and Blink 182 ever happened. With a four-guitar attack, the band pummels the listener into submission but comes with enough hooks to make stand out tracks like “Separations” and “Hammer of the Gods” ring in your ears for days after.
This album got an astonishing lack of critical love (neither Pitchfork nor the Quietus had it on their year end list), indicative not of the band’s talent but of a musical world where raw power isn’t appreciated as it should be. No record this year left me feeling more physically exuberant, and sometimes that’s all I want from music. – Adam Lehrer
Young Thug – 1017 Thug
“Trappin’ trappin’ trappin’ trappin'” Yeah, we’re all fed up of that shit, right? Yo, but this shit bangs though!! Young Thug has been doing his thing for a minute now. I first heard him on the incomprehensible song “Haiti Slang” (s/o Sacha Jenkins). I love a track that makes you say “This dude is a terrible rapper!” Really, Young Thug is just a maniac, so it’s cool.
The beats on this tape really aren’t that exciting – true. But Young THUGGA just keeps dropping rap after rap that makes him sound like Future’s committed cousin. After the impeccable Spanish of “UNO DOS CUPS STUFFED” (yo, he must really be Haitian, right??), we get treated to the Christmas bells-sounding “Ball” which features some dude called OG Boo Dirty which is essentially the least inventive Southern rap name I’ve ever heard (see: OG Ron C, Gangsta Boo, “Dirty South”). Once you hit “I’m Fo Real” (oh, you’re for real, dog? that’s amazing!) you’re gonna be hooked. This Rich Kidz-style Dun Deal-produced track is ATL-flavored pop music perfection.
This is where all the white people (myself included) go bananas – A GUCCI MANE FEATURE TO MAKE YOU SAY UGHH! Then, the moment we’ve all been waiting for – the incomparable single “Picacho.” Is it a Pokemon reference? Is it a reference to the town in Arizona? Who gives a fuck. HIS DIAMONDS JUST SAY PICACHO.
You can download this mixtape for free, which is a huge part of the appeal. And don’t you dare try and get the No DJ version. An integral part of the experience is hearing “DJ SWAMP IZZO” in your ear every five seconds. If you don’t “luh dem gun sounds” and don’t like rappers rhyming the same words twice (actually, thrice) then this isn’t for you. But if you’re trying to turn up in every direction except down, then cop cop cop. – Archie Murdoch
Disclosure – Settle
Let’s just regard 2013 as hip hop’s “Age of Underwhelment” (I know underwhelment is not a word but fuck it). The three biggest names in hip hop—just to be clear I’m talking about Ye, Jay & Drizzy—dropped albums, but please believe none of those jawns are currently getting any rotation on my phone. (To be honest, I have the majority of NWTS on there for when the ladies come over, and as a light-skinned dude it’s a requirement to fuck with Drake.)
Don’t get me wrong, the albums aren’t wack, but they simply meet expectation—at best. And when you’re tasked with setting the standard in hip hop, why keep the bar at the same height?
While hip hop music seemed to settle for the same-old “Shit,” UK-based production duo Disclosure did just the opposite and shook it up with their (ironically titled) debut album, Settle. While I’d heard the duo’s chart-topping smash “Latch” back in 2012 (shout out to Barry for putting me on), I never took the time to look into the group. But when “Latch” led Guy and Howard Lawrence’s charge into The States at the beginning of 2013, the electronic scene took notice and wanted to find out what all the noise was about—“White Noise” if you will.
Settle serves as an introduction to England’s electronic scene for those previously too intimidated to navigate through its meticulously labeled sub-genres. Tracks like “White Noise” & “Defeated No More” blur the lines between pop, future garage, and dance, while songs like “F For You” and “Grab Her” serve as a nod to deep house, but avoid the synchronized monotony typically associated with the sound. The duo also gets major cool points for paying tribute to J Dilla on the latter track.
Disclosure’s Settle does for garage in 2013 what Kanye West’s College Dropout did for hip hop in 2004: opened a somewhat segmented genre of music up to the masses for consumption, which may or may not be a bad thing. Only time will tell. For now, there’s music to be enjoyed. – Devin P-B
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
A departure from what some may feel is their “typical sound” Daft Punk released Random Acces Memories, what could be interpreted as homage to funk and disco. I’d been waiting to hear some new Daft since they dropped the ominous “Electroma” film back in ’06. Subsequently I’ve developed a thing for Francophilia, becoming a fan of the Ed Banger set, those JUSTICE (†) guys, Michel Polnareff, and the sensual musings of one Sébastien Tellier. Any who, I digress. Random Access Memories was a triumphant return of the two masked sonic avengers of my childhood and adolescence. I hadn’t been this excited about something from these two since they debuted their discovery videos on Toonami back in the day. Ok, now a cap on the nostalgia.
The album begins with “Give Life Back to Music.” A loaded title possibly referring to the EDM blur that took over the music industry for about a year. The track blossoms into some weird robotic funky disco dream setting the tone for the rest of the album. What sets this album apart from their previous efforts for me would be their departure from their more electronic sound and getting down with some real instruments. I found the album to be a little feature heavy, however, to their credit each collaborator was chosen well and helped to compliment and even accentuate the desired sounds they were searching for. All in all it was a tremendous sonic experience that for the lack of a better term gave life and love back to music. – Gregston Hurdle
Kanye West – Yeezus
Hold up, I need a second to remind myself that there was a 2013 before BEYONCE.
From the moment “On Sight” abruptly scratches into existence, we enter the brilliant, tortured, perennially misunderstood mind of Kanye West. Honestly, there was no other place I preferred to spend 2013.
The first time I listened to Yeezus was in a Zipcar driving around the North Shore of Chicago, a week before graduating college and moving back home to New York. It was perfect timing. I was in transit and not exactly sure what I would do when I got back home. I had ambitions, but no guarantees. I was about to enter a new, inhospitable space. Over in another stratosphere, Kanye was in a similar position. He was transitioning into fatherhood and becoming a husband just as he was exiled from the fashion, sneaker and art worlds. But he still had ambitions beyond those categories, so he shouted them at everyone. At least then they’ll know, right? Even if they don’t understand, they’ll hear. Kanye has never fit in because he’s not trying to. A lesson I took to heart. Can you imagine anyone else putting Justin Vernon and Chief Keef on the same track? It doesn’t work until it does. Someone takes a risk and it turns out to be exactly what every listener wanted.
What’s so amazing about Yeezus is that although Kanye changes in ways that the average human — those not on the path to becoming the next Steve Jobs or Walt Disney — might ever understand, his music continues to be relatable. From pink Polos to Margiela masks, he retains the rare talent to make the personal, universal. I’m not black, male or dating Kim Kardashian, but listening to Yeezus makes me think on a deeper level about my life and place in the world. It’s for everyone who’s ever felt like an outsider, and that seems very 2013 to me. As the American government stood at a standstill, revolutions raged around the world, 5 Pointz got whitewashed and the NSA spied on everything, Kanye reminded us that we can get really really mad, but still fight harder and dream bigger. You might even end up with an Adidas sneaker deal. – Lauren Schwartzberg
Pusha T – My Name Is My Name
With all this talk about the year’s best albums, one particular project stands out the most. Pusha T’s My name is my Name. It’s been a while since a rapper has had the balls and brass to accept the role of the villain. Pusha has no problem being the “Anti-Drake” of the game. The track “King Push” opens up the album with a psychedelic and militant-trap sound, letting you know straight up who he is, as the hook flows, “I’m King Push, this King Push, I rap nigga ’bout trap niggas, I don’t sing hooks.”
There’s also the fact that there isn’t really any big radio single on the album. I mean, sure, there’s “Sweet Serenade” featuring Chris Brown, but even that song is more of a celebration of drug dealers as opposed to some corny club banger. His honesty on “40 Acres” clarifies the fact that despite what you may think his past is, he could give a fuck less about justifying it for anyone, as both verses open up with the words “Unpolished, Unapologetic.” “Suicide” captures the flawless synergy between Pyrex P and long time friend and collaborator Pharrell Williams on the beat and hook as Push talks that coke-moving shit he’s known for and good at. Push still sticks to his guns on the Kelly Roland assisted track “Let Me Love You,” by not making it a typical girl or love song but instead making a song about keeping his side bitch in pocket as far as the guidelines of their relationship is concerned.
“Who I Am” recreates that same magic “Mercy’ had with fellow G.O.O.D. Music rappers Big Sean and 2 Chainz. “Nosetalgia” featuring Kendrick Lamar is the largest stand out track off the album. Not since the Clipse have you heard someone balance the scales this well with Push on a track. Both rappers are beyond honest and offer completely different points of views on the drug game; one from the eyes of the dealer and the other from the child of a user. “Pain” is an unlikely collaboration but with a great outcome, as Future’s signature slur fits perfect against No I.D.’s knocking drums.
Pusha T has the the best rap album this year because his album is actually a rap album. Even though Pusha has the machine of Kanye West, G.O.O.D. Music, and Def Jam behind him, his grind should not be underestimated. A lot of rappers have a hard time transitioning from street rapper to a superstar. With an overly-braggadocios fuck-you attitude, Pusha lets it be known that he is not here to sing to you, to talk about his love for art, or to dwell on socially awkward experiences like these other rappers. Its about black t-shirts and drugs. – B.A.
Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
From the beginning to the end, Doris is a well thought out plan of attack – proving to a formulaic industry that a modern day rapper doesn’t need to be campaigning for clubs, gold commodities, or hoes. Doris‘ voice and tone are what truly makes it a potential classic for a generation that’s been in need of the next College Dropout for years.
It speaks to a generation that’s at the peak of a cultural mesh; where the worlds of hip hop, skating, fashion, and “hipsterdom” have been brought into one entity. From nollying potholes to rhyming on back blocks with street certified Vince Staples, Doris goes through cycles of “skate rap,” emotional introversion, shit talking, and weed smoke, all while maintaining a consistent tone. This tone is at the core of its authenticity, causing Earl’s voice to become one of a realistic young adult from Los Angeles, handling fame the best he can.
Aside from the consistency in voice, Earl’s choice of both vocal and production features is extremely strategic. The combination of Earl and Vince on multiple songs feels almost as in-pocket as Rae and Ghost on OBFCL, which coincides with the RZA and dark loop-based production on “Molasses.” The remaining vocal features from in-house family and friends like Tyler, Domo, Mac Miller, Frank Ocean, and Ska La Flare help the believability of the stream of conscious lyrics delivered by Earl.
As per the rest of the production assistance, Doris calls on The Neptunes, Samiyam, Alchemist, Christian Rich, BBNG, and Matt Martians. Of course, these producers help diversify the musical ambiance of the album, but they also prove that Earl has one of the best ears for beat selection in hip hop.
Time is still in the process of deciding whether Doris is a classic and a lot of that process will deal with how Earl delivers his sophomore cut. As he ages, I’m sure the tone will change, but to me, Doris will remain a testament to the mind state of millions of young adults in twenty one-three. – Matt Lubansky
Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
With their sixth studio album, Queens of the Stone Age created some sexy, thoughtful ballads, blended with some blaring metal mayhem and anthems to celebrate machoism. …Like Clockwork gives fans something new to appreciate from the band’s frontman Josh Homme, with piano-centered and mournful tracks bringing a solid fresh feel to the band’s previously heavier entries.
Still, Homme knows how to make a macho universe, like on “Smooth Sailing,” with lyrics like “God only knows/so mind your behavior” and “I blow my load/Over the status quo.” The pervy lyrics and ’80s laced cooing in “If I Had a Tail,” make the track one of the best songs of the year. Dave Grohl provides furious drumming on half the album, with previous QotSA members, Nick Oliveri and Mark Lanegan, offering their fair share of badassness over tracks.
With some solid features by Trent Reznor, Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears, Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner, and Sir Elton fucking John, …Like Clockwork really shines as a solid ten-track record of the year. Plus, the album’s packaging and design itself was drawn by an incredibly grim artist named Boneface. How many albums this year do you know that had incredible art direction? – Kevin Cortez
PARTYNEXTDOOR – PARTYNEXTDOOR
Of all the releases I counted down to and pounced on immediately, the album I gave the most spins to was one I downloaded months after its release. Winter was looming, my school full-time, work part-time schedule was picking up force, and feelings of isolation, fatigue, and exhaustion were beginning to set in. Over the past two years I’ve begun to listen to R&B nearly more than rap, finding the melodies and songwriting more inventive and soothing. I finally downloaded PARTYNEXTDOOR’s self-titled debut mixtape after he released a video for “Break From Toronto,” and “Curious” late in October, and have listened to one of its ten songs everyday since.
I wanted a break from the city and from all the work I had to do, so when a night class let out, hopefully before 10, and I would walk through the East Village to the B train, and out of the subway station, to my Upper West Side apartment, I would listened to PARTY. When he said “This what Sauga feel like in the night time,” I thought of what Manhattan felt like in the nighttime, and considered any similarities. There was a chill in his records that suggested he too, from Mississauga, Canada, had been cold and alone. “Tbh” is a heartbreaker of a song that asks “Maybe close just isn’t close enough, maybe my passion just ain’t enough.” It’s 2 minutes of pure insecurity and doubt, a frustrating bit of concision. The whole tape in fact is only 29 minutes long, a likely reason I gave it so much play.
Listen to “Make a Mil” on your next drunken walk home, and let the opening lines, “Faded, swear to god I’m faded,” ripple through your altered consciousness. What follows will turn your thoughts into clouds and your motions into coasts. Most of the tape does this, and what’s upbeat and active is just as on point. I’ve experience much warmth from the rap hands “Right Now” has inspired me to unleash. And the joint’s lone feature, a Drake verse on “Over Here,” says less about Drizzy’s rhyming ability and more about his ear for talent. PARTYNEXTDOOR signed to Drake’s OVO Sound record label this past year and it sounds like a perfect fit. Cold hearted, cold weather heat rocks that don’t start and finish, but envelop you in their haze and make PARTY’s world yours. – Ted Simmons