Sunday, March 15, 2015

Dave's Favorite Albums of 2014

Hey! It’s March. I am very late with this. I’m usually late, but never this late. I could blame it on my band Tempest Edge turning 10 and having an amazing anniversary show that I heavily promoted. I could blame it on going to a video game festival in prime writing season. I could blame it on the WWE Network for the hours of entertainment. I could blame it on a lot of things but I won’t. I dropped the ball and need to be held accountable for my laziness. So here we are in March and I’m just finishing this. Shame on me. I am a loser. But please read this. Please.

Let’s get right to the point here.


Logic-Under Pressure

Hype was up for Logic going into 2014, he’s been slowly gaining traction with mixtapes over the past several years, peaking with 2013’s Welcome to Forever, a tape that showed Logic has the abilities and wherewithal to make it on the mainstream stage. Months later, Under Pressure was released,a debut LP daring enough to avoid guest verses completely. That’s ballsy. Unfortunately, Logic just fell into the ‘dope spitter’ category for me. He can rap. But he’s not doing anything more than that. It’s not the lack of features that bring this LP down, it’s the lack of identity. To me, Logic doesn’t stand out. He has a lot of room to grow and evolve, he just hasn’t gotten there yet.

Primus-Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble

Lineup-wise, Primus is a lot KISS, there are multiple variations over the decades, but there is one lineup that the fans recognize as the great lineup. For Primus, the Gene/Paul/Ace/Peter equivalent is Les Claypool, Larry LaLonde and Tim Alexander. In 2014 this dream lineup got back together to release their first LP in 19 years. The end result is...a 40 minute tribute to the 1971 film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. It’s messy to say the least. Multiple “Oompa loompa doopity doo” songs, weird interludes and downright awful grooves. As I type this I am trying very hard not to use ellipses to show how I am just sort of trailing off into confused and disappointed boredom. Primus, even though I don’t spend as much time with them as I did when I was younger, is an exciting and talented band. This album is not that. Their tongue in cheek call to arms has always been “Primus sucks!” And in regards to this atrocity, I agree with that.


I owe a lot to Atmosphere. Them, alongside k-Os, Aesop Rock and Kanye West (yeah odd quartet I know) pulled me from golden age hip-hop to the modern age. LP’s like Godlovesugly and When Life Gives You Lemons are among the most influential LP’s of my formative years as a hip-hop fan. But this. This is depressing. Slug’s edge is long gone and Ant is becoming a fossil of a producer. While someone like Aesop Rock continues to evolve and try new projects, Atmosphere is like a nostalgia act for 2000’s underground backpack rap. They were the true alternative to club rap like 50 Cent or Nelly back when 50 Cent or Nelly were relevant. Now they are just as irrelevant as those 2, just underground. Better luck next time guys.

Also the last Wu-Tang Clan album was a monstrous mess highlighted by one fantastic song.  But we all saw that coming a mile away.

Onto the…


I’ll be a little less formal for this bit since I’m actually being nice and why be formal when you’re being nice right? There were a handful of bands that impressed me this year but just didn’t make the cut for one reason or another.

Hot off their buzzworthy David Letterman performance, Future Islands released their fourth LP Singles. A very fun and synthy LP filled with a ton of very outlandish vocals from frontman Samuel T. Herring. I don’t mean to be dismissive of the musicians when praising the vocalist because the screams and howls from Herring wouldn’t be as odd if the bass and synthesizer weren’t playing thumpy synthpop. I liked this LP, but feel as though it needs proper time to grow on the listener, and unfortunately I didn’t have the time to give it that.

In the pop realm, two LP’s that I thoroughly enjoyed were Charli XCX’s Sucker and La Roux’s Trouble in Paradise. While modern pop isn’t exactly my forte, I think both of these ladies did an excellent job making memorable and easy to return to albums. What’s keeping them off of the top list is a minor lack of identity. Not in character, but in the music. I feel like both of these singers are on the cusp of becoming great, they’re just not there yet. But again, not a huge pop guy. So why trust me in this case?

Rounding this whole shebang out is Compton rapper YG and his LP My Krazy Life. While he’s not as proficient lyrically as fellow CPT native Kendrick Lamar, YG managed to make a concept album that plays effectively from top to bottom. It took a few listens for it to sink, because YG does kind of fit that “dumb” rapper image that 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane and many, many more have popularized lately, but once it hits, My Krazy Life really does a great job telling a story. It’s a story I’ve heard before, and surely will hear again, but YG. Good on you man! Keep it up!

Now onto the top 20!

20. clipping.-CLPPNG
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If there is one album that I can honestly say is the most unique listening experience I’ve had in 2014, it’s the abstract hip-hop trio clipping.’s second, almost self titled LP. I’m no expert on the subgenre, but compared to the other titans of experimental hip-hop, Death Grips, clipping. rides a fine line of accessible and just weird. The album starts with bizarre static and kicks into “Body & Blood” a track that tells the tale of a succubus type of woman. The thing that makes clipping. so unique is that lyrically this track would fit on a Big Sean or a Wale album, but musically this could be a Death Grips or a Yeezus beat. It’s that duality of beats and lyrics that make this trio so formidable. I mean they rap over an annoying all too familiar alarm clock buzz. That’s just wild. This LP is certainly not for the casual hip-hop fan, but for those that want a truly one of a kind sonic thrill ride, CLPPNG certainly can give you that ten fold.

19. Jukebox the Ghost-Jukebox the Ghost
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I’ve been a fan of Jukebox the Ghost for a while thanks mostly to my brother pushing their debut LP Live and Let Ghosts on me six years ago. However, it wasn’t until their last LP, 2012’s Safe Travels, that I truly fell in love with what this band does. On the new self titled LP  the Washington D.C. trio change their musical approach subtly enough to ease into mainstream ears without sacrificing their identity. The result means the music isn’t quite as punchy and immediately entertaining as Safe Travels or their prior works, but there is a lot to love on this album. The fact that there are three singers with three unique voices and approaches to lyric writing gives this band a identity of its own and the track “Hollywood” is the best example of how they can swoon and then kick into pop without blinking an eye. The future is bright for Jukebox the Ghost if their evolution continues upward. While this didn’t knock me down like Safe Travels, it’s a sweet LP that asks for multiple spins.

18. Ghostface Killah-36 Seasons
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Last year Ghostface Killah teamed with composer Adrian Younge to deliver 12 Reasons To Die, an album that threw Ghostface back into the good graces of critics, following a string of inconsistent LP’s. The concept of that album was familiar turf for Ghost, a mafioso is killed and resurrected, and 36 Seasons follows similarly. Ghost portrays a Staten Island vigilante trying to keep his shattered community from falling apart even more. Easy Wu-Gambino stuff! What’s pretty interesting on this LP is that the featured artists play characters, just as Ghost himself is playing Tony Starks, a character long synonymous with his recording career. Kool G Rap, AZ and Shawn Wigs play characters as well. It’s as if this is a hip-hop opera in a sense. While Younge’s beats on 12 Reasons To Die sounded organic and old school, 36 Seasons sounds much more hip-hop at their core. Credit for that is due to longtime Wu collaborators The Revelations. Ghostface is one of the rare MC’s to maintain his sharpness lyrically and charismatically for over 20 years, and 36 Seasons is just another feather in his already colorful cap.

17. Lordi-Scare Force One
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I have a soft spot in my heart for silly, completely over the top hard rock. Lordi is a band that totally embraces their silliness and revel in it. The Finnish phenoms, all dressed up as demonic characters that are equal parts KISS and Troma-esque practical makeup, deliver another refreshing dose of ridiculousness with Scare Force One, a surprisingly high quality follow-up to 2013’s so-so To Beast Or Not To Beast. While the band had spent the last several albums trying to cling onto the relevance of their 2006 Eurovision winning track “Hard Rock Hallelujah”, it’s clear they’ve finally found some stability. Scare Force One is just the perfect onslaught of riffs, solos, growly vocals and overall silliness. The band is 100% in on their brand of hard rock and for the first time in almost a decade it seems like they’re actually moving forward.

16. Lights-Little Machines
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I really liked Lights’ debut LP The Listening. It felt like a fresher, less pretentious version of The Postal Service. But, much like The Postal Service, I found myself only visiting it when I was in a very specific mood, and thusly, Lights kind of disappeared off of my radar. I checked out her follow-up Siberia, but was turned off by the EDM influence. So, when Little Machines dropped I was hesitant to try it, but a lazy evening came about and I found myself pushing play and just smiling. Lights still makes really mellowed down synth pop, but this LP drives a little bit more. It’s no party album, but compared to what she’s done before the pace of Little Machines is refreshing and quite frankly surprising. Lights has a lot of potential, and her musical evolution on this LP is a promising reminder of why sleeping on talent isn’t something I should do.

15. ScHoolboy Q-Oxymoron
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Oxymoron is my hip-hop banger of the year. Q is a rapper that might be under appreciated due to his association with the great Kendrick Lamar, but his charisma and ear for flow makes him a standout in his own right. I feel ridiculous repeating the phrase, but this LP is just a really fun and downright good banger (apologies for the repetition of the word, it just fits so perfectly). The beats kick and Q just owns the tracks. The theme is pretty par of the course for hip-hop, braggadocious gangsta rap. But Q is so good at it, and having beats from Pharrell, Mike Will Made It, The Alchemist and Tyler, The Creator, among others behind the boards really add to the young mans pros. I think ScHoolboy Q has a lot to offer hip-hop and this is still just the beginning for him.

14. Mastodon-Once More ‘Round The Sun
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Mastodon is a band that just kicks ass. How many heavy metal bands can show up on the Monsters University soundtrack and not lose any credibility? On their sixth album, the guys continue forward with more of what has made them great. While I do understand the critics that have complained that since 2011’s The Hunter, Mastodon has become less progressive and more straightforward in their approach, I can’t help but just enjoy what they do. I don’t need multiple 10+ minute songs to appreciate the kind of music these guys make. The riffs here are phenomenal,  the chemistry between all of the instrumentalists is through the rough, and the aesthetic these guys create is just enjoyable. While I’m no guru in the metal genre, I can’t help but say these guys continue to impress me with every release they put out.

13. J. Cole-2014 Forest Hills Drive
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On this very blog I spoke out against Cole’s 2013 LP Born Sinner. I thought it was too easy of a follow-up to his memorable debut LP Cole World: The Sideline Story. I also didn’t like that he purposely released it the same day Kanye West released Yeezus, because I felt like it was a publicity stunt from an artist that didn’t need to rely on that kind of nonsense. So, when I heard Cole had released 2014 Forest Hills Drive without any real promotion or singles, I was shocked and humbled. And then the album was really good? Man. Color me surprised. Cole isn’t retreading any ground on this LP, he’s just being Cole. He’s lyrical in a sense like you’d be comfortable talking to him in a room. He’s not alienating or goofy, he just speaks from the heart. And unlike the Logic’s or the Atmosphere’s of the 2014 hip-hop landscape, he doesn’t feel like he’s doing something that’s been done a million times before. This dude is comfortable in his musical identity. Not too many young artists can really say that.

12. Gerard Way-Hesitant Alien
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Let’s be real. Emo-pop isn’t only dead, it’s thoroughly decomposed. When I saw Gerard Way, former frontman of the genres most successful band My Chemical Romance, was putting out a solo album, I could’ve cared less. It sat in my iTunes library as one of those rainy day albums, collecting digital dust. When that rainy day came however, I found myself thoroughly surprised. Hesitant Alien is an extremely pleasant surprise of an album, and has little in common with his work in My Chemical Romance. Its catchy and noisy, the kind of stuff that would grace the ranks of Pitchfork, not the t-shirt racks at Hot Topic. Way has a very innate ability to craft these atmosphere’s that are both familiar and whacky. They rock like a garage band but feel spacey and tinny. Gerard Way truly has emerged the butterfly from his emo cocoon.

11. PRhyme-PRhyme
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Hip-hop touts ‘supergroups’ all the time, but more often than not they just make you pine for the prime of the artists involved. The Firm? Wu Block? Dare I go on? But with PRhyme, the stars aligned in unusual fashion. Slaughterhouse and Bad Meets Evil MC Royce Da 5’9” teams up with super producer DJ Premier to craft the most lyrical and dare I successfully ‘old school’ LP’s of the year. This is the album that adheres to all of the principles put in place in the early days of the genre. Killer beats, sharp, poignant lyrics, and a desire to be recognized for executing those former two things successfully. Royce just spits. Premier just excels behind the boards. The features are fantastic too. Common, Jay Electronica, ScHoolboy Q, Killer Mike, Mac Miller and Slaughterhouse are only a few of the elite spitters brought on to make this an incredibly memorable half hour of hip-hop. It’s really impressive to see two veterans put out such a good product when so many of their peers are falling into the realm of irrelevance.

10. Todd Terje-It’s Album Time
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There’s always room for jazzy nu-disco in my mind. It’s Album Time, the debut LP from Norwegian DJ Todd Terje is an impressive and eccentric listen. It’s equal parts retro and progressive. Even the cover suggests some sort of lounge element going on here. Terje composes pieces that vary in influence, length, excitement level...basically the guy is all over the map. But unlike so many artists who try to dabble in different genres, he does so smoothly and expertly. This is my go to ‘good’ party background music of 2014. It’s easy to just hang out over, but it’s always interesting enough to keep peoples feet tapping.

9. RiFF RAFF-Neon Icon
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RiFF RAFF has been on the internets weird radar for a few years now, and although his tweets, vines and Instagram photos have been consistently bizarre and memorable, he used those outlets to promote an album that never seemed to come out. Thankfully, only two (long) delays later, Neon Icon dropped. And it is bizarre and memorable. If Todd Terje jumps from influence to influence with relative ease, then RiFF RAFF does so with the subtlety of a Family Guy joke. He’s ballsy, for a guy who is a glamorized Paul Wall a decade too late. The LP starts with silly surfer talk about just how weird RiFF RAFF is (and it is indeed RiFF RAFF providing the voices of these surfer dudes) before we get that insane flow that he’s become synonymous with over the past several years. Then we get a rock song about cocaine. Then there’s the cloud rap influence, the club R&B stuff, and the skits that just don’t make any sense. But at the end of the day a lot of this is straight up good. Even the rock song about cocaine is really catchy! So whether he’s the white Wesley Snipes, giving out VIP passes to his heart, or rapping over a dolphin and a tambourine, RiFF RAFF is in the game of making memorable songs. And he succeeds at that.

8. Masked Intruder-M.I.
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My brother recommended this band to me. I couldn’t get over the fact that they wear colored ski masks and identify themselves as each color (Intruder Green, Intruder Blue, etc.) but upon some nudging, I gave M.I. a shot and I was not let down. Masked Intruder may not be reinventing the wheel of pop punk, but they are extremely talented and incredibly endearing. The theme of this LP is simple: they’re the guys breaking into a girls house, but they’re also in love with the girl. Easy enough. Musically there’s such a cohesiveness from the band, which is a great thing considering it makes them stand out above their silly schtick.  They have a warmth about their sound, something that made me totally forget that they are indeed wearing colored ski masks while singing these songs. Then I chuckled because of the ski masks. It’s kind of a paradox. A good one though.

7. Mac DeMarco-Salad Days
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Mac DeMarco looks like the guy at your local show in the mosh pit with a bloody nose and a grin on his face, maybe a tooth missing. His music on the other hand, is an odd breed of jangle, psychedelic and indie pop. DeMarco’s arrangements are wonderfully spacey and minimal. He has a firm control of the guitar and its relationship to the rest of the instruments, and his somewhat lazily delivered vocals. This album hits a mood that I’ve never quite gotten before. It’s simple yet intricately crafted, and manic yet relaxed. DeMarco is an impressive songwriter and has a great ear. I can see him becoming a household name within the next several years if he continues to innovate like he did on Salad Days.

6. Grieves- Winter and the Wolves
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Grieves’ 2011 LP Together/Apart was my favorite of the year. As an MC he captured my imagination with his almost early-Atmosphere like honesty, and his producer Budo really did some imaginative things on the boards. I was pleasantly surprised with Winter and the Wolves, especially considering Grieves and pal B. Lewis were replacing Budo on the beats. Grieves still spits with passion and fire, and his beats reflect that. I was worried losing Budo would hurt the product, but nope! This album hits that emotionally potent and entirely self aware level that only a Rhymesayers artist could. Forget Macklemore, if there’s one Seattle based rapper that should be noted for his lyrical potency it’s Grieves.

5. Julian Casablancas + The Voidz-Tyranny
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The Strokes have arguably been on a downward trend since 2006. There’s no denying their influence and immediate impact from their 2001 debut Is This It? and it’s follow-up Room on Fire.  But starting with ‘06’s First Impressions of Earth all the way to 2013’s Comedown Machine, it felt like they just weren’t coming close to that level of quality and originality. I had heard that frontman Julian Casablancas’ solo work was good, but had never gotten into it prior to Tyranny. I was mad about subpar Strokes albums and that anger really got to be tiresome over the years. Perhaps it was that prolonged disdain towards his band that made me want to listen to Tyranny? Whatever the case, the album is just awesome. It’s experimental and refreshing. This sounds like Casablancas and The Voidz are trying desperately to shed any comparisons to The Strokes and it’s beautiful in that chaotic sense. A lot of the songs are drawn out and explorative, all within a certain blueprint holding things together. The rhythms are all kind of jarringly catchy. The LP is brash and rebellious and badass all the while sounding slightly poppy and, although grungily mixed, accessible. Definitely a worthwhile listen for anyone who has grown a certain hatred for that cookie cutter version of The Strokes we’ve had to endure for the past several years.

4. Neil Cicierega-Mouth Sounds/Mouth Silence
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These two albums are the most experimental and downright creative musical works of the year. I’ll put that on record now. With that being said, the first of these two mash-up albums, Mouth Sounds is highlighted by frequent and wonderful use of Smash Mouth’s “All Star”. It’s mixed in with Modest Mouse’s “Float On”, John Lennon’s “Imagine”, the Full House theme and more for varying levels of humor and wonder. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Cicierega plays with samples in a way that is entirely unheard of. This in no way resembles the Girl Talks of the world, it’s a beast of it’s own. Both LPs may have their duds (mixing the Black Eyed Peas’ “Imma Be” with the Beatles “Let it Be”) but the inconsistency of the compositions are all timed to a tee. It’s as if Cicierega knows the heavy hitters need space, and makes the listener patiently endure some odd things to get to that wonderful, blissful hilarity. I can’t speak highly enough about these two albums. They were easily the most listened to of anything from this year, and there is no reality where I don’t return to “Full Mouth” when I’m in a bad mood after a long day at work. I never imagined a ‘comedy’ album would crack my top 5. But here we are. And I have no shame.

3. Run The Jewels-Run The Jewels 2
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El-P and Killer Mike continue to creatively dominate hip-hop. Another year and another fantastic album. These guys just mesh together perfectly. El’s a visionary producer who needed the internet age to really get the credit he deserved and Mike was a great MC who hung around great MC’s that cast a shadow over him (and that’s no offense to the mighty Outkast). But these two together in 2014 are about as pure as hip-hop can be. The beats reek of sleaze and cigarette smoke and the verses, while oftentimes misogynistic and crude, are exciting and memorable. El-P and Mike create a kind of chemistry that overshadows many of the greatest hip-hop duos of our time. While some of the features are pointless (sorry Zack De La Rocha) when it’s just RTJ themselves, we see how bright the future is not just for this duo, but independent hip-hop as a whole. Run The Jewels have effectively placed the flag down on hip-hop and said “We’re the best. Bring it on.” I hope we see some legitimate challengers for them in 2015.

2. Chromeo-White Women
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A good friend of mine recently said he could never really get into Chromeo beyond a passing level because they’re just “pop”. I was so offended by that statement I went on a 20 minute inebriated rant about how this album is a modern pop masterpiece that showcases influences and features impressive playing from multi-instrumentalists from Dave1 and P-Thugg. Chromeo, while certainly cheezy on many tracks, bring a plethora of influences to the table and after three albums of trying to find a sound that just works, have hit gold. They mix radio worthy pop with R&B, soul, funk, rock and more. The best part is they do it with ease. This is an album that not only solidifies Chromeo as great, but has been in constant rotation for me since it came out. I love what these guys do and I am glad they finally reached a level of a truly great LP.

1. Weezer-Everything Will Be Alright in the End
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Weezer has been my favorite band since middle school, but I’m not going to lie and say they haven’t been subpar for the past decade. While I strongly stand by their ‘01 and ‘02 LP’s Weezer (The Green Album) and Maladroit, I can’t defend them from the criticisms that started with ‘05’s Make Believe. They lost ‘it’. It was infuriating to see people talk about their first 2 albums as perfect and the rest of their output as trash because I stood by them! I stood by them through the worst of it, and the payout on Everything Will Be Alright in the End was totally worth it. The album is downright great. While it’s hype started with the single “Back to the Shack” it must be noted that there is a glaring error in that song. In the chorus, frontman Rivers Cuomo belts that in going ‘back to the shack’ Weezer will be “Rocking out like it’s 94.” No. Weezer isn’t rocking out like it’s 1994 they are rocking out like it’s 2014. This album doesn’t resemble their eponymous debut (The Blue Album), it’s a beast of its own. This is an album by a band that’s been together for over 2 decades, a band that has endured critical and fan-driven shaming. These guys have been honest in their music only to be teared down by those that supported them. EWBAitE is them using that negativity and slighting as motivation to make the best power-pop they’ve made in well over a decade. The choruses are big and memorable, the guitar solos shred, and the band just clicks in a way that they haven’t for some time. So you know, maybe I owe the casual fans (or as I call them ‘haters’) an apology. You guys pushed Weezer to this. Thanks. Screw you for your decade of rudeness and doubt. But thanks.

So that’s it. Now that we’re in March I’m already knee deep in 2015 albums. Fall Out Boy, Mark Ronson, Big Sean, Wale, Kanye West...I don’t think I’m over 2014 yet and some of my favorites are already putting stuff out. This is unfair and amazing at the same time.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Dave's Favorite Albums of 2013

It’s 2014, and with the new year comes the required retrospective look back at what made 2013 great! Now, before I even get into this I want to say that there is a lot of stuff sitting in my iTunes that I haven’t given a proper listen to. Stuff like Deafheaven, Chance the Rapper, CHVRCHES, Disclosure, the new Three 6 Mafia mixtape, Death Grips and a slew of other releases that have gathered considerable digital dust. Bottom line is this. I always wait until January to write these lists so I can let my brain process the whole years worth of releases, but even then I can’t get to everything I’m recommended. I'm sorry for that, but I can't wait any longer! So before we get to the best let’s talk about the rest…


Let me be negative for a moment okay? I had some high hopes for a few albums this year. First and foremost let’s talk about J. Cole’s Born Sinner, an album that dropped on a pretty meteoric day in hip-hop in 2013. Back in 2011, Cole blew me away with his mainstream debut Cole World: The Sideline Story, which was a pop rap album packed with character, a unique voice, and hooks that weren’t unbearable. But the proverbial sophomore slump has greatly affected Cole on Born Sinner, as the album just feels like a somewhat darker rehash of what he did right on Cole World. It’s just not exciting. I had very high hopes for this LP, and it just failed to deliver in my opinion.

Speaking of sophomore slumps, Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt followed up his 2010 debut with Doris, his first proper LP. Now, I know Odd Future has proven over the few years of their relevance that quality isn’t a consistent factor for them, but Earl was the guy that stood out as the shining star. When he was 16 he was rapping circles around people 20 years older than him, and while he did have that horrorcore tinge, he packed a ton of depth in his rhymes. On Doris we see a product of the 2013 Odd Future mentality. It’s still edgy, the beats are still okay for the most part, and the lyrics are there, but it’s just dull. It feels like a grasp at relevance more than a legitimate release. But, the kid is 19. He has the right to screw up now.

And finally, wrapping my negativity up are two bands that were constantly on my iPod and in my CD player in high school, Franz Ferdinand and The Strokes. Now, my excitement level for new releases from these guys is obviously lower, keeping in mind how dull and uninspired both
Tonight: Franz Ferdinand and Angles were, but part of me always wants to pay tribute to bands from my formative years, so I gave them a shot. Bottom line is this, these guys are too young to be trying the ‘retro’ sound. Bands like The White Stripes (well moreso just Jack White) have outlasted their peers because they continually grow, Franz Ferdinand and The Strokes are just sort of doing what they used to do and slapping a new label on it. They’re not bad albums on the whole, they’re just dull and uninspired. I wish only the best for these guys, but I’m about done listening to their new releases.


So what almost made the cut? What was good but had some flaws that kept it off the list? Let me tell you. Pop-emo titans Fall Out Boy made their triumphant return after a 5 year dry spell with the bombastically titled Save Rock and Roll. The album definitely shows that the Boys haven’t lost what made them megastars in the first place. Powerful and unique vocals from frontman Patrick Stump combined with high energy music from the rest of the crew. What holds it back is just an overall lack of consistency. A ton of good songs here, just a few duds lodged in between.

And another guy who always seems to be making a comeback, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2 came out and was way better than I ever expected it to be. While I was a huge fan of Em’s last album Recovery, my tastes have shifted over the past few years. Combine that with the obnoxious single “Berzerk”, the fast-rap-for-the-sake-of-fast-rap “Rap God”, and having two past their prime producers in Dr. Dre and Rick Rubin helming the project had me really worried about what this album would be. But oh man. It’s solid. Eminem still is on his game lyrically, and there’s a ton of great stuff going on on this album. Sure the beats are a tad repetitive, the hooks are awful a lot of the time, and Em has dumb punchlines, but I can forgive that because of the sheer amount of effort Eminem clearly put into this LP. It’s far from flawless but there’s just so much to take in and appreciate, I can overlook the stuff I don’t like.

Kentucky rock outfit Cage the Elephant put out their third LP Melophobia in 2013 and have finally broken from “meh” to “I like them” in my head. On their first two albums they were finding their footing, drawing a bit too heavily from their influences and having a few too many duds to make the albums worth returning to, but on Melophobia they have really started to make a name for themselves. There are a ton of awesome songs on this album, and if their growth continues they will easily make my top 20 with their next LP.

In the realm of hard rock, two of my all time favorites Rob Zombie and Lordi released pleasantly fun and heavy albums in Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor and To Beast or Not To Beast. Both albums improve on their artists last release and just get the job done. Kickass riffs, hilarious imagery and an overall good time. If I made this list a top 25, both of these albums would be on it, no doubt.

So let’s get down to brass tax.


20. Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge-Twelve Reasons to Die

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While Ghostface Killah has been the most consistent solo artist of the Wu-Tang Clan, his last string of LP’s followed a similar formula. Hard hitting beats with hard hitting rhymes. Simple enough, right? Well, after doing that since he gained internet era relevance with 2006’s Fishscale, I suppose he knew it was time for a change. Enlisting film composer Adrian Younge, the genius behind Black Dynamite’s amazingly funky score, Ghost returned in 2013 with a concept album. Now, the concept isn’t very far fetched as far as the Wu-Tang mythology is concerned; Tony Starks (Wu-Gambino alias of GFK) is an aspiring black gangster who is slain by the powerful Deluca family. He is resurrected through twelve vinyl records and becomes the Ghostface Killah, seeking revenge on his murderers! Simple right? Ghost’s lyrics are on point, and the features are a handful of Wu fan favorites. While this album isn’t in constant rotation for me, whenever I push play I get excited. Twelve Reasons to Die is certainly one reason that 2013 was a good year in music! (Sorry that pun had to be made)

19. Major Lazer-Free The Universe

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This is an album that got a lot of mediocre and negative press from critics, saying it was kind of dull and uninspired. Now I can’t say I didn’t agree with those people at first, because I was underwhelmed by this album on first listen, but the more I spun it, the more I came around to it. What I love about Diplo’s musical direction here is that he paces this album very well. There are very melodic songs followed by party bangers followed by straight up reggae. The feature list is really impressive too, especially considering how awkward of a lineup it looks like on paper, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, Flux Pavillion, Peaches, Wyclef Jean, Beanie Man, Bruno Mars, Tyga, and Santigold are just a few of the artists that add to this super fun LP. This has easily become my go to party album of 2013. That in and of itself is a big deal. So take note.

18. A$AP Rocky- Long.Live.A$AP

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This album came out in January, so it had all year to permeate and linger around in my mind and ears. And to it’s credit, I never really stopped listening to it. I loved Rocky’s debut mixtape LiveLoveA$AP, so I was biased going into this. I was glad that the major label treatment has groomed Rocky into a prominent figure in mainstream hip-hop. The southern beats with the Harlem lyrical grit just works. Adding in some cleaner production from heavy hitters like Jim Jonsin, Hit Boy, Dangermouse and even Skrillex to the mix of Rocky and Clams Casino’s already established beat style made this a little easier to swallow, and thusly a lot easier to just push play on. While Rocky will never be an elite MC in my opinion, his swagger and image make him a lot more intriguing than your average spitters. Not to mention the crew track “1 Train” is one of the ballsiest ways to showcase a slew of great up and coming rappers. Rocky's here to play and this album is a great mainstream kickoff.

17. 2 Chainz- B.O.A.T.S. II #METIME

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Any rapper ballsy enough to use an acronym, Roman numerals and a hashtag in his album name deserves a little bit of credit right off the bat. Now, I know the flack I’m going to catch for this being here because I am well aware of 2 Chainz status in hip-hop. He’s the court jester of Kanye West’s ensemble of MC’s, so how can we take him seriously? You know what? I don't take him seriously and that’s the point! 2 Chainz isn’t out to make you say, “Wow he’s a contender for rapper of the year!”, he’s trying to make you say, “Wow that’s a hook I can’t get out of my head!”, or even, “That line was goofy!” and that’s where this album succeeds. Before popping this into my car stereo for the first time, I told myself, “You know, I’ll probably hate most of it, but there will be a song or two that I love.” Little did I know that I would like more or less the entire album and keep it in the CD player for months. The beats bang and the lyrics are clever, both in a creative way and in a humorous way. I don’t care about what the haters say, this excercise in excess is amazing and I look forward to B.O.A.T.S. III.

16. All Pigs Must Die-Nothing Violates This Nature

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I don’t know much about hardcore punk, but on All Pigs Must Die’s sophomore LP, they made me enjoy the hell out of it. This group, comprised of members of The Hope Conspiracy, Bloodhorse and Converge (I don’t know any of those bands), deliver a 33 minute thrash-fest that just demolishes the ears. The one thing that really sticks out about this album, and maybe it’s just my ignorance to the genre, is how ridiculously melodic it can be. The guitar lines are really cool and can even get stuck in my head from time to time. I thoroughly enjoyed this LP, and while it’s not for everyone, I can see others joining me banging their heads and pumping their fists. (Hardore punk fans must be shaking their head at all the cliches I just threw in there)

15. Mac Miller- Watching Movies With the Sound Off

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I loved the young, good time having, wide eyed Mac Miller of K.I.D.S. and Best Day Ever, but as his proper debut Blue Slide Park was released I felt that he had almost peaked in that realm. Sure he was entertaining, but the life expectancy of a party rapper is short. Thankfully, Mac reemerged on Watching Movies With the Sound Off a whole lot more smoked up and red eyed. I’m not one to delve into drug references and whatnot, since I don’t participate in them myself, but if you want to see the good that marijuana does to people, look no further than Mac Miller! This album’s scope is so much grander than on all of his other projects combined. Again, just like with A$AP Rocky, he’s not a top 10 MC by a longshot, but his personality and ear for good beats and guests make this album not only a surprise, but a knockout. So much creativity is present in this album and I regret ever sleeping on Mac Miller.

14. Justin Timberlake- The 20/20 Experience

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I remember when FutureSex/LoveSounds came out back in 2006, people were like “Whoa! The guy from N*Sync is legit?” and the rest of us were like “Yeah, just luck right there. Just luck.” and then that live special came on HBO and we all shut up for good. It was clear JT was more than just a product of the late 90’s boy band boom. And after years of acting and dating hot celebrities, he returned to the music scene in 2013 with two albums! The first of which, The 20/20 Experience is one of the most fun mainstream albums I’ve heard. Timberlake’s influences from all across the board shine here and Timbaland’s production is as fresh as ever. The way these songs warp and change may get tiring to some, but I think it's pretty amazing. It shows that the formula in pop music is entirely moldable. Kudos to you JT! Keep up the good work!

13. Tyler, The Creator- Wolf

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So I expected to really dislike Wolf and really like Doris. Funny how things don’t go your way all the time. My criticisms for Tyler, The Creator’s last LP Goblin were plentiful, and I had almost certainly lost hope in him going forward. He was all over Twitter in the worst possible way, his Adult Swim show was just a little too stupid for me, and the crew LP The OF Tape Vol. 2 was a miss overall, so how could I expect something good from him? Both surprisingly and thankfully, Wolf is awesome. It takes the familiar characters of Tyler’s self conscious, adds a few more, throws in some inspired guest verses from OF members and keeps the beats interesting without having them be as obnoxious as they’ve been in the past. It’s like someone said, “Hey Tyler, you’ve got a lot of potential but if you focused on these points you’d really make it!” and he did what they said and got a great album out of it. Or maybe it’s just he’s a few years older and wiser and just made a better album. Either way, I’m a fan.

12. John Mayer-Paradise Valley

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After last years unnecessary Americana LP Paradise Valley, I found myself a little annoyed with John Mayer. Sure the album wasn’t bad, but he was channelling Neil Young more than Eric Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughn. And considering how amazing his bluesy opus Continuum was in 2006, it made sense to shake fists at Mayer distancing himself from the genre. But fear not! Because Paradise Valley, while not a 100% return to blues, is a much more focused and modern album. It’s light and sweet and entertaining, while still maintaining the artistry that so many rock and roll fans pretend that John Mayer doesn’t have. From the opening lick on “Wildfire” I was hooked on Paradise Valley. To those that are still hung up on Mayer for his tabloid status, the man write great songs, and he can play a mean guitar too. So shut up.

11. A$AP Ferg-Trap Lord

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If 2 Chainz surprised me with his goofy B.O.A.T.S. II album then A$AP Ferg blew my mind with Trap Lord, both guys have been anchored by the dudes that helped make them relevant, with 2 Chainz it’s Kanye and with Ferg it’s A$AP Rocky, but man! This album is definitely superior to Long.Live.A$AP in my opinion. It’s goofy and ridiculous, but unlike Rocky’s album, this doesn’t do anything to try and appeal to any mainstream audience, it just bangs. It’s the kind of album that’ll get play at parties and then linger in your head the next morning. To me, Ferg’s flow is so quirky that it almost transcends the cliche of the trap genre. He is an MC, not a great one at all, but a fun one, and that is very much present on this LP. From the get go Ferg is boasting about wealth there’s no way he has, he’s rapping about drugs and promiscuous sex, and he’s bragging about the success his friend Rocky got! Not to mention he’s got bona fide legends Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and B-Real and modern trap stars Waka Flocka Flame and Trinidad Jame$ showing that even the ignorant modern hip-hop can pay homage to legitimate icons of the genre. If there is one stupid, fun, care free ride to take from the pool of 2013 albums, I do recommend bowing down and praying to the Trap Lord.

10. Haim-Days Are Gone

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I saw a Nardwuar interview with Haim before hearing their LP and I couldn’t help but be a little annoyed at their hip little personalities. Then I heard Days Are Gone. Wow! This is a really awesome album. When I first listened to this I wasn’t entirely impressed, but the songs kept sneaking into my brain at the worst times and I found myself returning to this album a lot. The harmonies are there, the hooks are there, the musicianship is there, these sisters just get the job done on all fronts. I am a major fan of these ladies and this album will surely get spun a lot going forward!

9. Run the Jewels-Run the Jewels

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El-P had a busy year in 2012, releasing his own LP (lol) Cancer 4 Cure as well as producing Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music front to back. It was clear these guys had chemistry, but little did us fans know that within a few months they’d get back in the studio and put out a 10 track debut LP. Not only that, but the LP is awesome. While I’ve strayed away from hyper-lyrical hip-hop as I’ve gotten older, I can’t help but be mesmerized by the way these 2 spit. Mike is just brash and gritty, at the same time getting his legitimate messages across, and El-P continues to weave metaphors and references that I need Rap Genius to comprehend. And the best, and maybe worst, part of this release is that it left me salivating for more. The 10 tracks come and go and in half an hour it’s over. I pray that these guys have just as productive of a 2014 as they did the past two years.

8. The Dillinger Escape Plan-One of Us Is the Killer

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I don’t know a thing about mathcore outside of my love of this band. That being said, One of Us Is the Killer is easily the least schizophrenic and crazy DEP album to date. It’s still schizophrenic and crazy when put up against most other releases, but it’s a lot more melodic and toned down than on their prior efforts. And unlike so many groups that tame their sound down, these guys do it without sacrificing their identity. They're still very distinct in what they do, and the musicianship and songwriting here is just as impeccable as on previous works. While the more mainstream sound may be a deterrent to hardcore fans, I think it invites people to try them out a lot more easily, because if you like this as much as I did, you’ll surely enjoy them when they amp up the whackiness.

7. Kanye West-Yeezus

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On Rate Your Music, I made the point that Yeezus had so much attention it wasn’t worth saying anything about. I proceeded to pinpoint my problems with criticism of this album. It was all low hanging fruit really, I didn’t mean it as a way of bashing other users tastes as much as I wanted to point out how people are so eager to jump on Kanye and bash him because he is at the forefront of modern hip-hop. But the bottom line, all of these months later, is that Yeezus has not only help up, but it has blossomed in my brain. It has laid seeds that have grown into self indulgent plants that keep pulling me back to this album. Kanye is a mastermind, and while this isn’t his best work in my opinion, it shows how willing he is to embrace change for no other reason than to make music he wants to hear. He’s not evolving to stay relevant, he is evolving as pop culture is scrambling to comprehend what his music is. I understand why people may not like this album, I just can’t help but be mesmerized by Yeezus. It’s so meticulously planned and performed that it’s impossible for me to not love it. Every second of audio on this album was thought over for hours and that deserves a lot of respect. And I also happen to love the music.

6. Queens of the Stone Age-...Like Clockwork

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When this album first dropped, I made a somewhat backhanded compliment of it, saying that it was a rehash of what made Queens great back in 2007 with Era Vulgaris. I claimed I liked it, but wasn’t surprised because I already like the formula that is QotSA. What an idiot I was. Like Clockwork is a masterpiece. It’s not always as hard hitting as their prior albums, but it’s so atmospheric and wonderful. The layers of guitar lines and grimy bass work are great, not to mention the iconic Dave Grohl returned to the kits for the album. These guys have proven over their tenure that they are much more satisfied making music that pleases themselves over churning out album after album to keep the mainstream pleased, and their love of their own craft shows on this album. While this may not deliver the driving, chugging, fast paced hard rock that made these guys famous over a decade ago, it more than makes up for it with the emotion and craftsmanship put into all of these tunes.

5. Pusha T-My Name is My Name

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Finally! After years of anticipation, Pusha T formally released his first solo LP. If you want to talk about hype dying and being resurrected over and over, look no further than everyones favorite pusherman. Being a fan of both Clipse and Pusha’s solo output, whether it be mixtapes, EP’s or features, I was excited going into this LP. Although I must admit, several delays made this a bit of a scary sense of excitement. Was Pusha really ready for the limelight? Thankfully, the answer is yes. This album is a reminder of what makes Pusha T a great MC. He oozes personality, raps about things he wants to rap about, and plays to the beats he’s given. While the subject matter may not vary too much from track to track (cocaine, rap, cocaine, rap), the presentation is immaculate. Maybe the credit in that situation can be given to Kanye West, who produced half the album alongside of slew of other notable names (Don Cannon, Pharrell Williams, The Dream, Hudson Mohawke and NoID to drop a few). All in all, Pusha T came in and just set fire to beats that were already on fire, and the end result is a banger of an LP that I listen to top to bottom frequently.

4. Vampire Weekend-Modern Vampires of the City

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I fear for the day when Vampire Weekend peaks. I always think it’s going to happen, but they manage to surprise me. I thought their self titled debut was an incredibly catchy and memorable album that set the pace that I doubted could be kept up with, then Contra came around and kept right up! So when this album was announced I couldn’t help but wonder if this would be the LP that stopped the hype train and revealed Vampire Weekend to be a bunch of lucky hipsters who managed to put out two great LP’s. Thankfully, the train continues to roll, and this time around, it has a lot more steam. While it’s not as downright fun and upbeat as their debut, Modern Vampires is an album that plays out beautifully when listened to front to back. I can see fans being disappointed when the first single “Step” was released, but placed in the context of the album, the song is perfect. Not to say the songs themselves don’t stand out, because they’re all more or less great songs, but the flow of the album is just perfect. The moods mesh and the sounds compliment each other from song to song. There’s a lot more experimentation on the instrumental front too, which is good in shaking the constant Paul Simon comparisons. I remember being absurdly excited after the first time I listened to their first album, like a 14 year old after his first kiss, and I’m glad to say that two albums later, I’m still loving this band.

3. Biffy Clyro-Opposites

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Double albums are a bit of an odd beast. They can be a canvas for an artist to throw whatever the hell they want to the listener and hope it works, case in point The Beatles, eh-hem the White Album. Or they can serve up a double dose of mediocrity with a few standouts, case in point Red Hot Chili Peppers Stadium Arcadium. Now, I know Biffy Clyro’s brand of loud alternative rock isn’t the most diverse brand of music in existence, but to me this LP shows just how much an artist can do with the genre. Opposites does retain the quirkiness in both songwriting and lyricism that has made Biffy stand out among their peers, but it expands their horizons by giving them that rhetorical canvas to White Album all over. But what stands out to me the most in the case of Biffy Clyro is their ability to have consistent melody present without growing stale. This album works song for song just as well as it does from front to back. That’s an achievement for any artist making a normal LP, let alone a double album! Mon the Biff, and screw the US single disc version of this!

2. Paramore-Paramore

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I feel like calling this album ‘the surprise of the year’ is a bit of an insult to Paramore, though I highly doubt they’ll ever come near this blog as people so what do I care? ‘Surprise of the year’ would assume that I knew for a fact Paramore was a bad band who suddenly came out with a downright great LP. Now I know the latter statement to be true, but to be honest, I’d never given Paramore any more than a passing glance prior to being told to listen to this album. So the appropriate statement would be Paramore’s self titled fourth LP opened my eyes to a band that I had otherwise discounted due to their status in the mainstream. There’s so much to like on this album. Let’s start with the obvious, the centerpiece of the band Ms. Hayley Williams. Not only is she a fantastic singer, but her lyrics here are just downright real. I can’t help but smile when she’s singing about happy things and go “Awww” when she’s pining for love she can’t have. Instrumentally this album is really fun too, thanks in part to the fact that the production is so bare bones. A band this famous shouldn’t make an album this raw and simple. And that’s the bottom line. Paramore have broken the formula and it worked.

1. Danny Brown-Old

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This album was very difficult to point at and say “Old is my favorite record of 2013” for a few reasons. I mean, it’s tolling, it’s gritty, and it’s crazy. It’s not an album I can turn on at any given time and jam out and then go to work. It’s a bit of an undertaking. But upon multiple listens this album flourishes. Just by looking at the track list, the duality of this album is clear. Side A is a portrait of a rapper trying to overcome the odds and make a name for himself in the rap world without losing his identity, Side B is a party. A party filled with lots of marijuana, molly, booze and women. So, in 2013 both ‘sides’ have been overdone, right? I mean, Kendrick Lamar’s good kid M.A.A.D. city shows Side A and Waka Flocka Flame’s Flockaveli shows Side B. There. Done. Unoriginal. But it’s not just the literal presentation of this album that makes Old something different, it’s Danny Brown as a lyricist and a performer. To break down something fans of his know, the man changes his voices to match the mood of the song. So on much of Side A, he’s subdued, thoughtful and self aware, whereas on Side B he’s a wild man. And the first time I heard these voice changes I honestly thought I was listening to a different rapper. But what I love most about this album is the fact that it slams a flag into the world of hip-hop, a statement of presence. Danny Brown is saying, “I know you may have heard XXX, but I’m here and I’m not going anywhere and none of you will touch me creatively.” Danny Brown is one of the most unique artists I’ve heard in recent memory and Old truly places him in a league of his own.

So that’s it! 2014 is here and I’m just waiting for some new music to get on! Have any recommendations for me? Stuff I missed last year? Stuff from 1967 that I may not know! Send them my way! And if you like reading me rave about music check out my Rate Your Music profile! Thanks a lot for reading and I hope everyone has a wonderful and musical 2014, even though we’re already a few weeks into it.