It's January 1 and I'm sitting in a coffee shop reflecting on the year that was in music. Actually I'm listening to Reflektor and have been all morning. If they'd just cut one or two songs it'd be an instant classic. Anyway, I've been thinking about this for a while. I want to put 2013 to bed, so here is my final piece on it. I've firstly compiled my list of the top 20 mixtapes, EPS and live albums for your perusal. Secondly I've collected my biggest musical disappointments for this year, and thirdly I have scoured the depths of Wikipedia to bring to you a list of records you probably didn't hear about in 2013 but were released by some very notable names.
This is just hip hop. It's hip hop for the year 2013, for the year 1987, for the year 1996, and the year 2050. El-P, whilst not the most gifted on the mic, laces this tape with the most insane production. He somehow fuses old school boom bap with futuristic electronic reminiscient of Autechre or Squarepusher, then brings drums as crisp as anything Dre has ever created to sounds like he is in about 5 different time periods at once. Then there is Killer Mike. His recent output should be a clear indication that he is now the definition of an emcee. He brings all of the angsty, aggressive, brash and brazen disregard for authority that made N.W.A. and Public Enemy great, but then his bravado is at Big Daddy Kane levels. His technique and flow is as fresh as anyone doing the rounds, and his wit is never buried, he likes to flaunt it, to run it off the top of his tongue and spit it in your face. Why this was a free download I will never know. There is probably no marketable single I guess. Even when Big Boi drops by, his best verse in years is coaxed out of him by his ridiculously talented counterparts. Pity this was a mixtape, I'd have put this in my top 5 for sure.
Dreamy, sleepy, sun-soaked nostalgia makes a comeback. Their last record was a slight disappointment compared to their first, but Best Coast return to their roots by resurrecting that magic displayed on their first record. It's a charming collection of songs that are held together by the personality of lead singer Bethany and her tussle with life, love and all in between. This Lonely Morning, the title track, introduces a lost soul, and this yearning to discover what life is really about, which is a denser topic pool than The Only Place managed. Titles like Fear of My Identity, Who Have I Become?, Baby I'm Crying and I Wanna Know may sound childish and elementary in their execution, but the truth is far from it. It's what makes this music honest and accessible. Simple rhyme schemes are just easier. We've followed their journey now from exuberant stoner to slightly drug addled and losing their way to the point they are ready to recover and explore the rest of the world.
Everyone wanted to know if Wayne still had it. I mean he made the mixtape game what it is today. Whoever is making millions off of Datpiff.com and livemixtapes.com should be paying the dude royalties, although that would be ironic considering his lack of credit on earlier tracks. But he has fallen off, could he claw his way back to the top? Dedication 5 doesn't have the pure disdain for coherent thought that D4 had, it doesn't have the effortless intelligence of D2 and it doesn't have the experimental flow of D3, but it is a very worthy member of this crew. It's better than his record, for one, and his verses over the top of New Slaves, Bugatti and Started From The Bottom far outstrip their originators, which is what the D series is all about. He has similes about sex flowing out his freaking toenails, and he still manages to throw competitors aside with a flow that seems almost as if it is imprinted in his soul and the ability to flip a line like no other, 'She poured out her heart, I had it on the rocks.' He takes on everything from Kendrick to Wu-tang to Meek Mill and holds his own every time. Not a total return, but the king of the mixtape game still has it.
8. Muse Live at Rome Olympic Stadium
The 2nd Law almost broke my stereo. I turned Supremacy up so loud and forgot to fiddle with the bass, so when Madness came on the whole thing boomed out like a fog horn. Throw a stadium in the mix, and you have one HELL of a live concert. Incredible, truly loud and expansive. Bellamy practically ascends to heaven with the heights he can will his voice to, and ever track explodes. Madness has a whole new dimension to it, and when Supermassive Black Hole burbles around Rome's Olympic Stadium you had better be alone because you will start belting it out with him. Amazing concert.
Problem has scaled new heights thanks to this release, and it's not surprising. The production is some of the best of the year, on Understand Me that delicate tinkle is undercut by a boom worthy of Droop-E, and 100 Grand takes a similar route, a slightly understated bassline that slaps. It's that new southern style, piloted by E-40 and Too $hort, and Problem and IamSu mine it perfectly. From start to finish there isn't a low point, with Juvenile and Los providing some excellent and much needed freshness.
Sometimes he gets a little too caught up in his food, which, looking at him, is kind of obligatory. On Blue Chips 2 he tones it down (slightly) and tempers it with wit, 'Did I mention, steer the whip with one arm like Jim Abbott/ Chocolate sauce over thin rabbit'. That said, he then proceeds to drop some of the most heinous, disgusting lines in the history of hip hop music, Bought my bitch a present hope I don’t spoil it/ ‘What is it baby?’/ Face to face toilets', '
Husband pay me 10 stacks to fuck his bitch/ Hand up her ass like a muppet baby, its crazy, while she do a buck-eight in a mustard Mercedes'.
Still, there is easily enough fun and joking to get you through a few listens. He still manages to be one of the dextrous on the mic despite his large frame, and his beats are still tight and suit that laid back flow perfectly.
See this is the beauty of an EP. FB just thrash their way through 10 packets of guitar strings on this. Save Rock And Roll was a bloated indulgence. I mean they did a freaking track with Big Sean. That's weak. Maybe they realised this, or maybe they recorded this EP out the back in secret away from their label who was clearly controlling their output. Either way this is more punk than anything they've ever released, which is good because they are at heart a punk band.
Never before have I liked Game. He shouts out way too many people, and even admits to being murdered on his own tracks. Still, OKE was the realisation of talent that we've been crying out for for years. His flow is spot on point, challenging Lloyd Banks for the king of the monotonal delivery. His guests all add value, and it feels like he probably could've released this as an album and done decently off it.
14. Rockabye Baby - Cassie
There's no pretense here, Cassie doesn't pretend to be sweet and lovely. 'Do my dance on your dick boy you know you live this shit'. It's far from unlistenable, instead it bangs with ghetto integrity and slides her next to queens like Lil Kim and Foxy Brown, which is where she always belonged even if she did have Alicia Keys aspirations.
Busta's recent output has been so refreshing, he has revisited his early 90s and it's paid off.This release is so dated it's blasting cobwebs, but it a stunning return to form for one artist who has lost touch with his original fan base and another who's history has always been solid gold. A stunner.
Beauty, depth, exceptional.
Future may do it more regularly and profitably, but Ty uses vocal enhancements to take us on a tripped out, spacey ride through his life and the mind of a minor hip hop star. It's chilled, but thumps when you need it. An essential mixtape.
Nick Cave exerts such control over a song when he sings it live. He can turn your mood on a whim. The brilliant Higgs Boson Blues is a 9 minute cracker that burns slowly but strongly. People Ain't No Good will have you throwing people overboard on the ferry, Wide Lovely Eyes is stunning. It's an amazing release packed with even more emotion than the record which is a true achievement.
It's been too long since we heard from the one time Roc star. He addresses Jay-Z's Poundcake verse, and turns his sharp wit on subjects like instagram and cooking crack. Still one of the funniest emcees since Slick Rick, and his stories are almost as good.
This has been a ridiculously busy year for snoop, and this is a nice way to return to his rapping roots. The most mainstream thing you will hear from him this year.
1. Yeezus - Kanye West
Yeezus.. What a toilet of a record this was. I reviewed it here and originally gave it a 5 out of ten, and I think that has held up well. I couldn't give it any less, because tracks like Bound 2 and Blood On The Leaves are actually quite brilliant. The rest of the record has its moments, but it is such a misstep that it's so hard to listen to them with an open mind. After releasing arguably one of the greatest hip hop records of all time, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, I guess you can forgive him for thinking he needed to challenge the status quo. I guess. I mean plenty have tried it. Some seem to think that this is the first time an artist has truly tried to shatter perceptions about the hip hop genre and take it in an entirely new direction. That may be true in one way, Ye is probably the 9th or 10th mainstream artist to throw caution to the wind and take a left turn. Lil Wayne released Rebirth, a rock-focused auto-tuned jam, and Curren$y did a similar thing. But the problem with Yeezus is he isn't even doing something new. The mixtape game is now littered with artists doing what he set out to achieve, doing it by themselves, and doing it better. Spaceghostpurrp, Le1f, Metro Zu, BADBADNOTGOOD... The list is endless. And whilst it may be admirable for Yeezy to shun the dance floor and the lucrative iTunes market of young white girls in favour of furthering himself as an artist, this should be seen as a mistake. As an electronic experience, the album is pedestrian. Acts like Autechre, Aphex Twin, Daft Punk, Leftism, James Ferraro, and Squarepusher have pushed the boundaries so far over such a long period of time that he as a producer shouldn't even bother attempting to compete. Lyrically, this album is pretty atrocious. Bound 2 aside, you can't release an entire record full of off-beat spoken word simple rhymes that aren't clever enough to get away with their disgusting imagery in the way Wayne or Em do it. 'Put my fist in her like the civil rights sign', 'eatin asian pussy all I need is sweet and sour sauce', 'I keep it 300 like the Romans, 300 bitches, where the Trojans'. These are just tame. I know he was never the most gifted with mic in hand, but on MBDTF he had grown so much and really settled in to a flow and technique that worked for him. He just casts it aside on Yeezus.
808s & Heartbreaks has a lot to answer for here. When it was released, it was pretty damn revolutionary. Auto-tune was being panned by everyone, and even Jay-Z wasn't a fan, but Yeezy said fuck that and went out and made an entire record drowned in it. At first, no-one got it. People slammed it, said it was boring. My opinion on it hasn't changed from the first day I heard it. It was really good. A good experiment, now back to proper hip hop please. But the media has jumped on board it since Watch The Throne came out, and hailed it as a genius move. Those kind of things are great in small doses. If you are a great 100m runner, you can run the 400m at the Olympics once or twice, but stick to the thing that wins you gold medals. Yeezus will be remembered as a sub-par record from an absolute modern genius.
2. Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience
Justin Timberlake.. Now this is a sad story. He takes 8 years off music to become a solid actor, and comes back with this giant weight of expectation on his shoulders. Justified was fun. It was poppy, chilled, and there was an awesome beat box section that had me and a few school mates battling it out in the playground at lunch over who could do Rock Your Body the best. Then came FutureSex/LoveSounds, a modern classic. A fusion of futiristic beats, the sweetest of falsetto's and a detailing of contemporary love that came straight from a Michael Jackson play book. I went and saw Justin at the height of his powers and for the life of me I couldn't tell you if he could sing. I left there so deaf I swore off any activity that involved girls and screaming for life.
So with all that expectation, it's ok and understandable for him to seek a new path, to challenge what is expected of him and try and create something meaningful, funky, and different. The only problem is he failed. Miserably. Suit & Tie was such a wonderful stand out, a slow burn of an opening with Timbaland's traditional horns that bled out in to a salsa infested dance playground, that had Jay drop in for some valium-induced uber cool. So why didn't he follow suit with the rest of his record? I reviewed it here, and I have to amend my final thoughts since the second edition was released. I called it slick, a calculated response to the molly EDM generation, something that would generate its own popularity through critical success as people rushed to congratulate him on experimenting with new sounds. Since he released a second volume after the first was met with mixed critical response, I think he was actually committed to this new direction. The only problem is, the whole thing is boring. I struggled through my compulsory 5 listens of Volume 1, and could only manage 2 run throughs of volume 2. Timbaland is at his sleepiest, and Timberlake his absolute sappiest. There is none of the wit and confidence of previous songs, none of the naivety and teenage angst. It's just dull. He is so talented that this was such a let down.
3. Lady GaGa - ARTPOP
Here it is! Our generation's Janis Joplin, a fusion of Britney Spears at her peak and Bjork at her weirdest, or just a mirror of Madonna at her very best. What we got was.. Well. It wasn't much. It wasn't bad by any means, it held up over multiple listens and was a middle of the road pop release. That's all though. I guess the biggest disappointment is that GaGa probably doesn't have this watershed moment we are all waiting for in her. Yes she has gotten weirder and weirder over the years, but that has had nothing to do with her music. I keep expecting her to throw us a massive curve ball, a record infused with Solange, Kate Bush, Aviici, Blondie. Something totally crazy and out there, something that even if she didn't execute it to perfection would still be timeless. I mean Like A Virgin wasn't perfect at all, but it was certainly new and fresh. Cheap Thrills was all over the place but in a great way. The disappointment in ARTPOP was that GaGa didn't even appear to try to live up to the title. There is no art in this. Do What U Want with R. Kelly is one of the tamest songs she has ever released, a meek disposal of her self-worth not only in lyric but in choice of guest. Dope is the same song that stoner rock bands have been writing for decades. G.U.Y. is a bit of a thumper but that's all. She didn't try.. If she had tried and failed this would be less of a disappointment. It's clear now that despite her off-field excesses, GaGa is as perfunctionary as all pop music these days. She is just Britney Spear with a few more brain cells in her head. Time to move on to Beyonce I think, a true revolutionary.
What I discovered a few years ago is that so many bands I used to love are still releasing music, it's just released with no fanfare or commercial response. I decided to round up the music from names I bet you recognise but had no idea still existed, let alone actually spent money on studio time and may even be touring your city in the not too distant future.
New Order - Lost Sirens
Tim McGraw - Two Lanes of Freedom
Bullet For My Valentine - Temper Temper
Dido - Girl Who Got Away
Stereophonics - Graffiti On The Train
They Might Be Giants - Nanobots
Bon Jovi - What About Now
OneRepublic - Native
New Kids On The Block - 10
Paramore - Paramore
LeAnn Rimes - Spitfire
will.i.am - #willpower
Rod Stewart - Time
Goo Goo Dolls - Magnetic
Thirty Seconds To Mars - Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams
Texas - The Conversation
Airbourne - Black Dog Barking
Jimmy Eat World - Damage
Kelly Rowland - Talk A Good Game
Hanson - Anthem
The Used - Ocean of the Sky EP
Backstreet Boys - In A World Like This
John Mayer - Paradise Valley
John Legend - Love In The Future
Sheryl Crow - Feels Like Home
Sean Kingston - Back 2 Life
Elton John - Diving Board
MGMT - MGMT
Sting - The Last Ship
AFI - Burials
Kelly Clarkson - Wrapped in Red
Gabriella Cilmi - The Sting
Celine Dion - Loved me Back To Life
Avril Lavigne - Avril Lavigne
Robbie Williams - Swings Both Ways
Britney Spears - Britney Jean