We’ve reached the end! Earbuddy names its final 25 Best Albums of 2013.
To look back at where we started, check out Earbuddy’s Best Albums of 2013: 100-84 (HERE), 85-71 (HERE), 70-56 (HERE), 55-41 (HERE), and 40-26 (HERE).
Now let’s finish the year by naming our favorite 25 albums of 2013!
25. Disclosure – Settle
Going into to 2013, the last thing I expected was teenaged twins Guy and Howard Lawrence to release the classiest and most danceable house album of the year (honestly my bet was on Daft Punk). After listening to their The Face EP last year, I thought Disclosure were going to fizzle out when the hype died down and maybe produce a few more ‘90s-inspired house numbers. Settle destroyed these preconceived notions as soon as NFL motivational speaker Eric Thomas uttered (“when a fire starts to burn”). Of course, the Lawrence twins didn’t get to where they are without the help of U.K. contemporaries such as AlunaGeorge, Sam Smith, London Grammar and Jessie Ware. Although Disclosure are too young for some of the clubs they want to play, they sure can interpret the history of deep house with a veteran’s set of ears. Settle covers all the bases of dance music: high energy bangers such as “Latch” and “When A Fire Starts To Burn”, straightforward and punchy cuts with “Grab Her!” and “Stimulation” and heart-melting slower paced jams with “Help Me Lose My Mind” and “January”. This year, Disclosure are truly dance music’s “Rudy”, sidestepping music school and more established producers in a genre that was popular before they were born. Their career just started its upswing, who knows what they will accomplish a few records down the line.
Read full Disclosure – Settle Review.
24. Arctic Monkeys – AM
This album is the sexiest thing released this year. I don’t care how many perfectly round tits and asses you have bouncing in your videos, how your Hobbit grinds with air reversed hair on your stationary bike, Yeezy, how many derogatory lyrics or catchy beats are in your booty shaking “Blurred Lines”; that’s all fine and good for some, but what this album has is a lustful grind that does not disrespect. Yeah, sure, it objectifies the singer (Alex Turner, in his most successful efforts yet) or even you (if you listen empathetically) as someone who is desperately in need, someone willing to do, be, anything in exchange for whatever it is that they yearn for — seeking, frantically, selfishly: yes, it objectifies. Turner offers himself as a “coffee pot,” or “vacuum cleaner” with Dr. John Cooper Clark’s poem “I Wanna Be Yours”, but in a way that is almost classically romantic. It has beats that move your hips, but lyrics that do not degrade anyone other than the narrator — if you even so choose to feel it does so, you shouldn’t. There is no one else being objectified here, no “hoes” being sung about here…*takes a step back from re-ranting*. Ahem, THIS is sultry, poetic, seductive rock music. It is sexual desire put to song: rhythmic, playful, occasionally awkward (you’re telling me you haven’t bumped heads “doing what grown ups do??”) but overall — pleasurable and wonderful. Like a great shag should be. So, get some.
Read full Arctic Monkeys – AM Review.
23. Buke and Gase – General Dome
It would be easy to dismiss Buke and Gase as a novelty act; the band created their own instruments after all. The gase (guitar/bass hybrid) delivers a low-end, distorted crunch, and the buke (baritone ukulele) packs a tiny, tinny punch. It would be easy to write the band off as a gimmick if the duo’s songwriting chops weren’t so superb. If it weren’t enough that these instruments are unsual, Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez create music that is bizarre, mechanical, and ultimately, damn good. In today’s musical landscape, the word “unique” is often used as a hyperbole — describing Buke and Gase’s music, it’s a necessity.
Their third album, General Dome, is easily the band’s finest, and it showcases the band drifting in and out of several melodies within each song. Take the first song for example: “Houdini Crush”. The song is a framed song, with one song structure inside of another. Buke and Gase decided that wasn’t enough, and embedded another song within the middle structure, creating the equivalent of Russian nesting dolls. And this is just within the first track of the album. Of course, foreign instrumentation and dense songwriting might alienate some listeners, but this is an album that was made to be torn apart, put back together, and tinkered with. General Dome is a deep sea fish, pulled from the depths of the Marianna Trench, that we all believed to be long-extinct; its features are rough, sharp, and even a little ugly, but it forces you to wonder what else could be dwelling down there.
Read full Buke and Gase – General Dome Review.
22. Neko Case – The Worse Things Get…
There is a quietly tumultuous period of time right around the moment a great artist ceases to be the latest, hottest critically acclaimed darling. In this period of time, one of three things happens: sometimes the artists gracefully bow out of the music world (unfortunately more common with women), sometimes the artist releases increasingly tepid or contrived music that attracts such criticism like “they’ve run out of ideas/passion/something to say”, and then occasionally the artist continues releasing such richly demanding music that one day they eventually reach the elusive “living legend” status. Neko is in fact one of those rare artists that seems to tease out a new layer or emotion with each new album, and I believe after 25 years in the business she is well on her way to becoming one of those artists you will see getting honored at the Kennedy Center by the president for an invaluable lifetime contribution to the arts.
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You is certainly a mouthful of a title, yet is actually a very succinct indication of what headspace and direction Neko went for with this album. Neko primarily wrote this album during a period of unexpected dark depression stemming from the deaths of several family members. In songs like “Where Did I Leave the Fire”, you can hear the disconnect and isolation in her voice and lyrics. Neko is simply too damn fine of a songwriter to fall back on cliched tropes like “I’m feeling lost” though. Instead she paints sensual stories that are visual representations of more abstract and complicated feelings like not feeling bad about a parent’s death and not knowing how to process that or what that says about her as a person. Bracing for Sunday” is a particular favorite. It’s a modern interpretation of a traditional Celtic murder ballad with Neko’s alternative rock/country twist. “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” is all acapella and is a positively heartbreaking look into Neko’s relationship with her (now dead) abusive and manipulative mother. In many ways, this album doesn’t stray that far musically from what people have come to expect from Neko, but this is hands down some of her most gutsy and naked songwriting. And recognizing what an achievement that is when one is already one of the most respected modern songwriters, that makes this album a must listen as well as another cornerstone in Neko’s lasting musical legacy.
Read full Neko Case – The Worse Things Get… Review.
21. Lady Lamb The Beekeeper – Ripely Pine
No doubt it was a stellar year for female musicians as we were introduced to Nadine Shah and Torres, and we also got landmark albums from Jenny Hval and Julia Holter. And despite the greatness of those albums, none of them came close to matching my fondness for Aly Spaltro’s debut album as Lady Lamb The Beekeeper. Considering that she taught herself songwriting during downtime while working at a DVD rental, her multi-faceted debut is revelatory. Ripely Pine’s songs reveal different layers on multiple listens whether it’s an instrument or lyric missed the first time. And much like Clark Griswold’s infamous enrollment in the Jelly of the Month club, Ripely Pine is the gift that keeps giving year round. Listeners invested in acts like Spiritualized or Bright Eyes, should give Ripely Pine a listen; I guarantee the discovery of your new favorite artist.
Read full Lady Lamb The Beekeeper – Ripely Pine Review.
Purchase: Lady Lamb The Beekeeper – Ripely Pine
20. A$AP Rocky – LONG.LIVE.A$AP
Coming out of LiveLoveA$AP in 2011, everyone and I mean everyone, was looking forward to what this new kid out of Harlem was producing next. After this, talks of his 3 million dollar deal with Sony/RCA pushed Rocky’s buzz to even more incredible heights. To everyone’s delight, when
Not only did LONG.LIVE.A$AP give us more of the Rocky we know, it also pushed him into new areas. He took a risk while amping up his flow on “Wild For the Night,” the Skrillex produced party anthem. He took a risk exposing his more emotional side next to Florence Welch’s fabulous vocals on “Like I’m Apart.” Also on LONG.LIVE.A$AP, Rocky exposed the world to A$AP Ferg, who would later go on to release the exceptional “Trap Lord” later that year. From the posse tracks and the hyped singles to the sleepier more smoked out tracks, this album was everything we hoped it would be and more. A$AP Rocky is building an empire, and this is the just the beginning.
Read full A$AP Rocky – LONG.LIVE.A$AP Review.
19. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
The National have always been hailed as indie music fans’ favorite “dad rockers” ever since 2007’s Boxer. The National play rock songs for the depressing 45-minute showers at the end of the day when things seem like they will never get better. Out of their entire discography, Trouble Will Find Me is probably the best suited for such an endeavor. Whether it’s downing “Pink Rabbits”, losing grace or simply longing for a significant other; Trouble Will Find Me always has an empty seat open at the bar to drown your sorrows. This is their dreariest album to date, but there are moments where a ray of sunlight pierces the overcast skies of Trouble Will Find Me such as the uplifting “Sea of Love” and the post-punk toe-tapper “Don’t Swallow The Cap”. Trouble Will Find Me is probably their most nebulous release to date and it fully embraces lead singer Matt Beringer’s stream of consciousness style of songwriting. It reveals itself in quite an arbitrary fashion making it tough to pick out a definite favorite song off the album at any given time. In the ambivalent fog of Trouble Will Find Me, there is beauty, redemption and a sure bet that eventually the end is coming, you just don’t know when.
Read full The National – Trouble Will Find Me Review.
Purchase: The National – Trouble Will Find Me
18. Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety
You all remember the early 90’s right? It was a time of great Saturday morning cartoons, light denim, and hope. That’s right, hope.
Now, the generation experiencing those things (My Generation) has grown up into young adults, and much of that era has passed into the realm of pleasant nostalgia. On top of Autre Ne Veut’s dynamic vocals and breathtaking falsetto, recalling this spirit is what made Anxiety a surprising and delightful experience. It was a sudden reminder of how much we have all aged since then and how great Free Willy was the first time you saw it. Not only did Autre Ne Veut’s Anxiety make a visceral hail to this time period with his singing style, but his lush instrumentation reincarnated every second in the immediate present; giving it a sense of youth and, you guessed it, hopefulness.
Read full Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety Review.
17. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
By FAR, their best album to date and their first one othat I actually truly enjoyed ALL the way through. Legitimately excellent from start to finish. You should sink your teeth into it, even if you were drinking the VW haterade beforehand. This album will change your mind about Vampire Weekend and turn you into an unbeliever as well. Yep, I’m a fan after this. Oh God, they’ve turned me!!! Nooo!! Uhh, but seriously, if you haven’t listened to it, stop being a jerk and do it, meow.
16. Julia Holter – Loud City Song
You’ve heard this story before: an artist you love receives more resources and support to create with a bigger canvas. And what happens? They go on to make a lukewarm creation that pales in comparison to their earlier work. Maybe it’s because this story is so universal, and so ingrained into music culture, that Julia Holter’s new album is such a wonder. Holter first gained attention with her previous two albums, Tragedy and Ekstasis — two unassuming, quiet records that were recorded in Holter’s own bedroom. For 2013’s Loud City Song, Holter escaped from her bedroom, moving into a professional studio with hired musicians to create with a bigger canvas.
Based on the musical/novella Gigi, Loud City Song is sprawling, wide-eyed, and majestic. Using her source material, Holter explores and connects themes from turn-of-the-century Paris and modern-day America. Thoughts of fame, urbanization, alienation, celebrity, and anxiety surround the main character of our story here; but who is the main character? Is it the eponymous Gigi? Holter herself? Me and you and everyone we know? It’s all of these things, and this makes Loud City Song a thoughtful, wonderful academic exercise. But hey, none of this would be worth much if Loud City Song didn’t have good songs, and this record is chock-full of them. “Maxim’s I”, “Horns Surrounding Me”, and “In The Green Wild” are among some of the year’s best songs, and they deftly mix experimentation and melody for a combination that is both inviting and accessible, but dense and thoughtful. Leaving that bedroom might be Julia Holter’s best move yet.
Read full Julia Holter – Loud City Song Review.
15. Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap
The first time I heard Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, I was shocked and perplexed. I couldn’t recall the last time I heard such high energy rap music that didn’t encourage me to do drive-bys. Instead, I wanted to hug my grandma and dance with a broom. However, even though I was enjoying Chance’s positivity, I had this thought that was slowly creeping up on me; “It’s not just me, this is actually great music.” Chance’s lyrical flow bounces and zips through these songs at an incredible pace, while the summery soul in his beats will immediately force a smile onto your face. When listening, it is also easy to tell that the featured rappers are also picking up on Chance’s charisma, and loving it as much as you are.
There is not much more to it. This album is just the perfect combination of accessibility, vocal skill, genuine enthusiasm, and insightful, enjoyable lyrics, guaranteed to brighten your day. If you ever put Acid Rap on make sure you clear some space for dancing. You’re going to need it.
Read full Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap Review.
14. The Knife – Shaking The Habitual
No artist commanded more of listener’s attention (or time) in 2013 than The Knife. At 96 minutes, Shaking the Habitual is a sprawling behemoth to traverse. With most tracks hovering above the 6-minute mark, the Swedish electronic duo created a sputtering, schizophrenic collection of songs that were just as likely to entice as they were to induce a migraine. From the oozing percussion of “Raging Lung”, to the elephant shrieks on “Fracking Fluid Injection”, Shaking the Habitual is this year’s toughest nut to crack. But give it time, and boy does it reward.
Read full The Knife – Shaking The Habitual Review.
Purchase: The Knife – Shaking the Habitual
13. Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
What a year for Foxygen. We get the stellar follow-up to last year’s debut album — We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, but then there’s an incident at SXSW, then we start hearing about rumblings of friction between the band’s core members: Sam France and Jonathan Rado, then we get a blog post from France’s girlfriend confirming the bitter feelings, and then Rado and touring member Shaun Fleming release solo albums (possibly to spite France working on side project with his girlfriend). With all of that drama, there’s got to be many creative directions the band can take their next album…if there is one. However, if We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic is indeed the last we hear of the Foxygen project, what an album to go out on. They’ve calmed down some of the psychedelic progginess heard on their debut Take the Kids Off Broadway and have touched on everything from Bob Dylan to The Flaming Lips and in between. While there may not be peace between its main songwriters, there’s plenty of magic to be found on this album.
12. Kurt Vile – Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze
When The Dandy Warhols sound like The Velvet Underground, they get ridiculed and labeled as pretenders. When Kurt Vile sounds like The Velvet Underground, it’s one of the best albums of the year. What’s the difference? The difference is that when The Dandy Warhols release an album, it sounds like a band paying homage and consciously aware that they sound like another band. Kurt Vile’s Wakin On A Pretty Daze, on the other hand, seems to sound like Lou Reed and company completely by chance. Its psychedelic but never in a way that detracts from its melody; its simple, but it never comes across as pedestrian or naïve. This album might be one of the most tasteful records of the year, with its excesses (mostly related to track length) all fairly earned and well-deserved.
As a move from his previous breakout hit, Smoke Rings For My Halo, Wakin On A Pretty Daze is a bit shaggier, with Vile moving away from his previous succinct songwriting. Instead, this record takes its time, but its slow tempo and extended runtime feel less like sluggishness and more like comfortable patience. Songs like “Wakin On A Pretty Day”, “Was All Talk”, and “Too Hard” easily clear the 7-minute mark without feeling like a drag for a moment. Vile’s not in a rush, so why are you? For a guy that comes across as a sometimes slacker, sometimes stoner, sometimes burned out wise-man, Wakin On A Pretty Day feels like it was created by someone cautiously optimistic with an intensely clear vision. It was a prolific year for Vile, who would go on to release another two EPs (It’s A Big World Out There (And I’m Scared) and Jamaica Plain), but if anything, Wakin On A Pretty Day proves that this is a songwriter at the top of his field.
Read full Kurt Vile – Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze Review.
Purchase: Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Daze
11. Armand Hammer – Race Music
The first official album from the hip-hop duo of Armand Hammer (Billy Woods, who has put out two albums we’ve loved, and Elucid, who has been on Billy Woods albums that we’ve loved), Race Music, is the sort of affair whose faults are also its strengths, and to address the weaknesses would involve diluting its greatest moments. From a sonic perspective, this is the successor to Woods’s History Will Absolve Me—big beats made with electronics and weird 8-bit samples and distorted voices and a million other ingredients. The work behind the microphone is fine (dudes find so many ways to say “the world sucks and it is kind of your fault” without insulting you), but the beats carry this thing into must-hear territory. This is an album whose flaws are worth putting up with because of how well it otherwise succeeds.
Read full Armand Hammer – Race Music Review.
10. Drake – Nothing Was The Same
Aubrey Graham a.k.a. Drake has gone through quite an evolution ever since he was wheeling around the set of Degrassi. Thematically, Nothing Was The Same plays with his newfound hindsight as he looks into his former self via the dual covers. Nothing Was The Same brings the same sobriety and seriousness of U.K. R&B artists such as James Blake, SBTRKT and Sampha (who contributed vocals for “Too Much”) making it his most potent release of his career so far. After all of the parody and ridicule he has got as just another rich “punchline” rapper, Drake finally focuses all his energy and vents all of his frustration he has accrued. “Worst Behavior” is the prime example of his pent up frustration; lashing out at the “motherfuckers” who never loved him. The production on Nothing Was The Same nearly outshines Drake’s soapbox rantings with help from trap rap mastermind Hudson Mohawke, longtime collaborator Noah “40” Shebib and the overly chilled out Detail. The beat for “Tuscan Leather” alone eclipses every previous Drake beat combined with its adept use of reversed high-pitched crooning. Drake’s introspective look at his rise to success; staring at all of the friends, former lovers, producers, singers and record label executives that have betrayed, misjudged and dismissed him makes Nothing Was The Same his most fascinating self-examination yet.
Read full Drake – Nothing Was The Same Review.
09. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
Queens of Stone Age’s 2013 album, …Like Clockwork, could also be named Josh Homme’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. With a bevy of cameos from Trent Reznor, Elton John, Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears, Mark Lanegan, and former bassist Nick Oliveri, and calling upon the drumming duties of Dave Grohl, …Like Clockwork is full of firepower. Surprisingly, it’s not the monster rock album that you’d expect. Instead, Homme’s turned most of his attention to his songwriting with moments of intensity (“My God Is The Sun”), retrospect (“The Vampyre of Time and Memory”), and humor (“Fairweather Friends”). While it never reaches the full throttle thrills of Rated R or Songs for the Deaf, listeners actually get more in terms of depth, squashing bad memories of Era Vulgaris and Lullabies to Paralyze. It signals a new era for QOTSA, one under the indie flagship Matador Records no less, and will leave listeners anticipating what the band does next. For the best alternative rock song of the year, look no further than “I Appear Missing”.
08. San Fermin – San Fermin
By now the retreat-to-the-wilderness-to-find-yourself-and-record-album story seems not as much a cliche, but a standard for any artist looking to obtain indie cred. Whereas Bon Iver’s debut was unquestionably recorded in a Wisconsin cabin, Ellis Ludwig-Leone made no production trade offs when retreating to the Canadian forests: the Yale graduate’s enthralling, sonically on-point arrangements offer no inkling of geographic isolation. Apparent from the first angelic burst on “Renaissance!”, San Fermin is an album full of unexpected shifts. Eclectic and immersive, Ludwig-Leone shows off his versatility effortlessly. “Torero” sees himself stepping into his Nick Cave suit, while “The Count” is St. Vincent binge from hell. There’s tender moments too; emotive and shameless “Casanova” plucks the heartstrings, while “Oh, Darling” could be featured in an upcoming Pixar film. Ludwig-Leone’s ambition aims high, making San Fermin one of 2013’s best hidden gems.
Read full San Fermin – San Fermin Review.
07. Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus
Fuck Buttons’ 2013 release Slow Focus is seven, engaging tracks in 53 minutes — two tracks cross the 10 minute mark, yet despite the ‘slow’ in the album’s title, Slow Focus moves rather quickly. Duo Benjamin Power and Andrew Hung have delivered an explosive electronic album, one that doesn’t sound so much electronic as it does industrial rock. The seven songs are brooding, mechanical constructs that fry your brain (or freeze) and leave you an empty shell, ready to have a barcode stamped on the back of your neck and sent to work by robots. There’s a sci-fi story there somewhere. If Boards of Canada’s Tomorrow Harvest is the best electronic headphone album of the year, Fuck Buttons Slow Focus is the best one to blast in your car or home stereo.
Read full Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus Review.
06. Sigur Rós – Kveikur
If you are a fan of a the band, you probably can understand how difficult it can be to describe what Sigur Rós “sounds like.” How do you put such a genre blurring group of talented musicians efforts into words, sounds that can really only be felt, sensed and experienced first person. I can tell you that this is my favorite album of theirs in over eight years. That listening to this album over and over, while watching severe Midwest storms roll through the sky from my tower window, has reduced me to tears on a several different occasions, and given me an epiphanic appreciation for the beauty and power of both nature and sound. Evoking wonder, dreams, sensuality, and being sonically therapeutic: there is a hammering strength and a delicate woodland-nymph like grace interwoven throughout — the band’s signature atmospheric glory at its best but a deviation from their works of late (perhaps due to parting ways with founding member Kjartan Sveinsson or perhaps just the band experimenting with their potential). However, it is 1000% Sigur Rós, and it is simply beautiful.
Jonsi’s otherworldly vocals, inimitable call and response, the swelling, lift and swirl of instrumentals – it’s just fantastic: I could (and have) listen to “Isjaki” on repeat for hours, and the whole album just over and over and over. Kveikur is utterly gorgeous and it has occupied a large portion of my music listening time for the better part of this year. Fans of the band, if you don’t own this already (gasp!), shame on you, get it, get it right now! Non-fans – it’s worth a spin or two or four, just saying, check it out, you’ll thank me. (Oh, and PS – ALWAYS take the opportunity to see them live! I can’t friggin wait for a chance to see them perform these gems!!! #lifechangingshows
Read full Sigur Rós – Kveikur Review.
05. Kanye West – Yeezus
It seemed as though all of 2013 was Yeezy season. From twitter skirmishes with late night television hosts, impending fatherhood, to anti-semitism allegations, Mr. West (perhaps as expected by this point) couldn’t shy away from spotlight. In the midst of all the attention, of course, was the album.
Holed up last minute with production-guru Rick Rubin, Yeezus saw Kanye rid himself of the grand theatrics, peeling away the orchestras until just skeletal remains were left. What was left was outrageous, disgusting, and enthralling. Justin Vernon croons hip-hop hooks a-la Nate Dog. A racism ballad is used to recollect drug riddled failed relationships. Hampton blouses are soiled. Even God himself makes an appearance. Those 40 minutes of maelstrom felt paradoxically expected coming from a man this manic, whose desire to be heard rarely equates with his ability to be understood. And after all those long ass verses? West created an album that will be remembered as much for its genius as its capacity to make listeners feel outright uncomfortable. The monster came back alive in 2013, proving himself a god amongst mortals, all while ruining sweet and sour sauce forever.
Read full Kanye West – Yeezus Review.
Purchase: Kanye West – Yeezus [Explicit]
04. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
Eight years after Campfire Headphase, the Scottish IDM titans rise from the ashes to produce their most cohesive and progressive electronic influenced album yet. They did it rather fashionably by teasing it with an album trailer via Toonami dubbed “Cosecha Signal One”; “cosecha” is spanish for harvest (and it could easily double as a Boards of Canada song title). When “Reach For The Dead” came out it didn’t really seem to make much sense to listen to it by itself because Tomorrow’s Harvest is an album that you have to listen to all in one sitting from start to finish as you would watching a movie. I imagine the movie that Tomorrow’s Harvest would potentially soundtrack is an art-house film about an abandoned Mexican radio station directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Boards of Canada took more of the ‘70s prog-electronic approach made famous by Tangerine Dream and Jean Michel-Jarre with Tomorrow’s Harvest.
While the album is best heard through an entire playthrough, there is a mix of awe-inspiring set pieces including “Jacquard Causeway” and “Palace Posy” and tracks that act more as transitional padding such as “Telepath” and “Transmisiones Ferox”. Tomorrow’s Harvest has the biggest universal appeal than any other BoC album and the evidence for this was quite staggering: pretty much all of my friends loved the album and they constantly played it on Spotify all year long. Although most BoC fans will still hold Music Has Right To The Children as their overwhelming favorite, Tomorrow’s Harvest is a constant reminder that their resurrection of pre-internet radio transmissions are still capable of being relevant in a rapidly evolving music industry dominated by album trailers, last-minute Rick Rubin productions and exponential ubiquity.
Read full Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest Review.
03. Deafheaven – Sunbather
Though a stellar year for Hip Hop, and a decent year for Rock, I can’t name a single Metal album besides The Ocean’s Pelagial that even scrapes the surface of this badass release. With age, fewer Metal influenced bands have been hitting my radar and sticking around long enough to pay attention. Deafheaven came out of the blue with this psychedelic, hard hitting, moody piece of awesome. All of the instruments are relentless, their stamina showing with four tracks well over the nine minute mark. Given their lengthy approach, Deafheaven’s use of tension on a lot of their verses build over a few minutes before finally exploding with passion. That’s right, this album’s like a bag of sex. That should be a D&D item. +5 to Charisma.
That’s not to imply that Sunbather is really about sex. The lyrics are screamed over a solid wall of percussion and guitars. The words themselves are difficult to discern, even when played next to the written version. This ambiguity ties in nicely with the rest of the package, making those repeat listens when you finally “get it” so damn enjoyable.
Everyone can look forward to a tour with Between The Buried And Me and Deafheaven after the new year. Something tells me that’ll be worth remembering folks.
Read full Deafheaven – Sunbather Review.
02. Danny Brown – Old
Danny Brown is one of the best artists in the world, and I qualify that by pointing to his countless head-turning guest verses, his B-sides being better than what ends up on most albums put out by his peers, and his two career-defining full-length albums, 2011’s outstanding XXX and now this, his magnum opus. Old doesn’t reinvent the wheel nor does it represent a drastic change in direction for Brown; instead, it (mostly) consists of expansion of the character and themes so gloriously explored in XXX. The most significant difference is that Old makes XXX’s damnations so much less oblique by sequencing the harsher material up front, which works to sell the stakes so much better. Old is immaculately sequenced, with its contemplative, bubbling first half serving as a warmup for the bombastic, grime-tinged second half, but it’s more than that. It’s the little connections that are made between tracks, such as the question posed near the end of “Gremlins” as to whether the song’s subject would clean up his act is answered by the entirety of “Dope Fiend Rental” (short answer: no), or how the personal drama of “Torture” bleeds into the personal journals of “Lonely”, or how much of the second half of the album could work as a person processing recreational drugs from the initial high (“Dubstep”) to crashing near the end of the night (“Kush Coma”). It’s this and so much more that makes this, a forward-thinking hip-hop album that channels Slaughterhouse-Five while balancing its ambitions with dark humor and the most delicious set of grimey-electro this side of a Dizzee Rascal album, one of the best hip-hop albums since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Read full Danny Brown – Old Review.
01. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels
Possibly the most embarrassing gaffe in any review I’ve ever written came in the write-up for this, the self-titled first project from the formidable tag team of rapper Killer Mike and rapper/producer El-P: “This hasn’t been a great year for hip-hop, but I get the feeling that Run The Jewels would demand discussion if it was released in the genre’s best years.” You can probably tell what I was trying to do, but in case you haven’t been paying attention, 2013 was one of the best years for hip-hop in a long time. Our own year-end lists show off the upward trend: in 2011, the highest-ranked hip-hop album was 13 & God’s Own Your Ghost if you’re lenient towards labels (#15), The Weeknd’s House of Balloons if you count hybrid R&B as constituting hip-hop (#22), and Danny Brown’s XXX if you’re only counting traditional hip-hop (#45). In 2012, two traditional hip-hop albums cracked the top thirty: Billy Woods’s History Will Absolve Me (#21) and Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music (#15), and that figure jumps to a whopping three if you count Death Grips’s The Money Store at #12, which might pass as alternative hip-hop. As for 2013? Seven hip-hop albums cracked the top twenty, and four of them cracked the top ten. We haven’t started favoring hip-hop, either, and while there have been an influx and out flow of writers, Earbuddy is still made up mostly of folks ready to cover variations of rock. Put simply, hip-hop demanded to be felt this year.
There were several hip-hop albums that I was afraid to share with my peers this year. Some required an intense amount of mitigation and qualifications; others had me saying, “Yeah, but the good stuff is really good”. Run the Jewels was not one of those albums. This album was championed by my peers prior to its release while I took a cautiously optimistic stance (this, despite my easily being the biggest El-P fan on this site). My brother told me that he spent too many nights looking up the significance of every lyric on RapGenius. In a year that featured big releases from Kanye West and Jay Z, this was the hip-hop album that came up most often in discussions. The numbers near the top of Earbuddy’s list consist of diametrically opposed opinions on so many albums—one staff member listed Yeezus at #106 on his list—but Run the Jewels featured in the top tens of six of Earbuddy’s nine writers, with three writers putting it at #2 (including yours truly—my top pick was Old) and one putting it in his top slot. Our top pick last year, Father John Misty’s Fear Fun, was a dark horse candidate that stole the whole thing. This year, the voting wasn’t close, not by a long shot.
Run the Jewels hits the sweet spot. Those with a casual appreciation for hip-hop can bump the biggest beats of the year; those with a soft spot for intense shit-talk can experience a master’s course in shit-talk; those who prefer a throwback touch to hip-hop will catch all of the old-school nods; those who prefer progressive hip-hop got this the second it came out because El-P personifies the subgenre. This is an album that no one has any reason to hate and everyone has so many reasons to love. 2013 was a landmark year for hip-hop, and no album represented damn near everything great about the genre quite like Run the Jewels. Here’s hoping 2014 is half as good to hip-hop.
Read full Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels Review.
And that does it! Thank you to all the musicians featured for giving us some truly exceptional music, and a BIG THANKS to our readers for checking out the site and giving us LIKES on Facebook. You guys made this the biggest year in Earbuddy history, and I’m excited to see where it goes next. From all the writers of Earbuddy, happy holidays and have a great new year!