Kurtis Klay’s Best of 2013
2013 was a year of artists big and small. Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, and Beyonce all released albums, while small, independent acts like Macklemore and Lorde (more on them later) became household names.
But the year in music belonged to one man. This man could be heard all over the place and was a part of two of the biggest songs of the year. I, of course, am talking about Pharrell Williams. Easily one of the coolest people in the music industry, Pharrell was all over the place this year. From features on Daft Punk’s album; to producing for Jay-Z, 2 Chainz, Pusha-T, and Beyonce; to helping produce the soundtrack for Despicable Me 2 (including making the incredibly catchy “Happy”, now featured on a Beats Pill commercial), Pharrell could do no wrong in 2013. So where to now for the super producer? Hopefully more features, but I personally will always look forward to another N.E.R.D. album.
Now that we have determined the winner of 2013, here are the albums that contributed to the year in music.
Honorable Mention: Matangi- M.I.A, Nomad- Bombino, Settle- Disclosure, …Like Clockwork- Queens of the Stone Age
10. Because, The Internet- Childish Gambino: The second studio release from ‘Bino is much different from Camp. A little darker and a little more electronic heavy in the production. But it’s pretty tough to make a solid 19 track album, and Donald Glover succeeds in doing that. The first half is mostly what you’d expect from Glover, while the second half is a little more artistic.
9. More Than Just A Dream- Fitz and The Tantrums: If you’re good at something, stick with it. Fitz and The Tantrums are good at making really catchy songs. And More Than Just A Dream delivers an album full of them.
8. Reflektor- Arcade Fire: Finally, I see the hype. Their last album, The Suburbs, received high praise from critics and took home the Album of the Year Grammy. But personally, I just didn’t hear it. It was just a lot of noise. But on Reflektor, I hear why Arcade Fire is so critically acclaimed. On the album, they add a little hard rock to their signature sound. The result is highly enjoyable album start to finish.
7. Long. Live. A$AP- A$AP Rocky: One of the first albums released in 2013 turned out to be one of the best. Long. Live. A$AP. serves as the studio debut for A$AP Rocky and showcases the immense talent of the Harlem based rapper. The album features some of the biggest names in the industry; like Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Big K.R.I.T., and Rocky shines with them all. Rocky also gets some help from unexpected places; namely Skrillex on “Wild For The Night” and Florence Welch on “I Come Apart”. The result is one of the most complete hip-hop albums of the year.
6. AM- Arctic Monkeys: This one took a few listens to grow on me. Initially, I longed for the hard guitar rock, punk influenced Arctic Monkeys I was introduced to in college and saw at Kanrocksas. AM is a toned down version of those Monkeys, but still effective. The hard rock is still there (see: R U Mine?), but the softer sound allows the songwriting to come through a little more than usual. And on this album, it is fantastic.
5. Yeezus- Kanye West: I think most people had the same reaction to this album; most weren’t a fan upon the first listen. The production was very odd and unlike anything Kanye had done before. But after the next few listens you hear some of the best production he has ever done and some of the best raping he’s ever done.
4. Random Access Memories- Daft Punk: One of the biggest acts in the world makes a triumphant return with a little bit of help. Ok, a lot of help. A lot of REALLY GOOD help. Julian Casablancas, Paul Williams, Todd Edwards, Panda Bear, Nile Rodgers, and of course Pharrell. But Daft Punk needs zero help with their production. The layering in every track is top notch. I don’t think it’s the best album of the year, but I really hope they take home that Grammy. Seeing two guys with robot heads accept the most prestigious award of the night would be priceless.
3. Evil Friends- Portugal. The Man: I reviewed this album back in July and thought then it had Top 10 potential. It was a really fun album to listen to and was filled with quality tracks. As I took another couple listens toward the end of the year as I was working out this list, I found that the album holds up really well; and maybe even gets better.
2. Old- Danny Brown: The “out of nowhere” album of the year. I had never heard of Danny Brown before this year. (I blame Kanrocksas for not knowing about him earlier, since he was supposed to be there.) As I was looking at end of the year lists online, this album kept popping up. I gave it a listen and was a fan immediately. The album is divided in to two “sides”. The first half of the album, or “side A”, is your typical rap album; featuring raw production and a focus on lyrical content. “Side B” is a modern club record. The production is heavily EDM influenced and Brown’s lyrics are raunchy and filled with drug references. And I love it.
1. The Electric Lady- Janelle Monae: Upon my first few listens, I didn’t think this album would be my top album of the year. But as I kept listening to it, everything just kept getting better. Even the tracks I listened to ad nauseum gained appeal. If I was skipping through my 2013 playlist on Spotify, looking for a particular song, and the opening guitar riff from “Q.U.E.E.N.” came on, it became harder and harder to skip to the next song. And that is what I look for in a top album. Can I listen to it over and over and enjoy it more with each listen? Electric Lady definitely meets this criteria.
Top 25 tracks
25. “Pusher Love Girl”- Justin Timberlake: The lead track on what I thought was a disappointing album. At least on I didn’t feel lived up to the hype.
24. “Kalopsia”- Queens of the Stone Age: The album didn’t hold up quite like I hoped, but I still really like this song.
23. “Control”- Big Sean ft. Jay Electronica and Kendrick Lamar: Let’s be more specific; this is really just about Kendrick’s verse. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more internet buzz and industry talk about A SINGLE VERSE, much less a whole song, than I did with this one. The day it came out, about 75% of my Twitter timeline for a couple hours was just about Kendrick’s verse.
22. “Worst Behavior”- Drake: I’m not a huge Drake fan, but I have to give him credit here. Solid delivery over an incredible beat.
21. “Give It 2 U”- Robin Thicke ft. Kendrick Lamar: Sneaky great track due to that other song over shadowing it. Oh yeah, having Kendrick on it doesn’t hurt.
20. “Feds Watchin’”- 2 Chainz ft. Pharrell: rather than give a synopsis, I’ll just leave these here. “Billie Jean red leather/ same color Red Lobster” “Sendin flicks to my patnahs in the state pen/ I just bought some pants made out of snake skin.” Thanks Mr. Chainz. Oh, and #Pharrell
19. “Smokin & Drinkin”- Danny Brown: This A-Trak produced track epitomizes the back half of Old.
18. “Suddenly”- A$AP Rocky: A$AP showcases his rapping talent on this track. He recites his lyrics on the first half, then speeds up his flow without much change in the beat.
17. “Work”- Iggy Azalea: Found out about this one while watching the VMAs. Looked it up on Spotify that night and couldn’t stop listening to it for days.
16. “Happy”- Pharrell Williams: few could make a song from a kids movie so universally appealing. #Pharrell is certainly one of those people
15. “Latch”- Disclosure: Overall, the album was a little to 90’s for me. But I like this track from the start and have been listening to it more and more recently.
14. “Spotlight”- Leagues: Not sure where I heard this first, but I had to Shazam it when I did. A driving drum beat and a catchy guitar riff make this one of my favorites from late in the year.
13. “Q.U.E.E.N.”- Janelle Monae: Fun all around. Great bass and guitar riff. Great chorus. And Monae’s rap at the end is pretty impressive.
12. “Normal Person”- Arcade Fire: Probably the hardest song on the album. Almost Black Keys-esque during the guitar solos
11. “Do I Wanna Know?”- Artic Monkeys: The best song on a solid album. The lyrics remind me of the sham of a Record of The Year winner from Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”. Except, ya know, like 20 times better.
10. “Primetime”- Janelle Monae ft. Miguel: Both parties bring it vocally on this R&B ballad
9. “Song 5” - Haim: I can’t quite put my finger on what makes this song great. All I know is that I listen to it at least one more time after I hear it. Maybe its the tuba provided bass line.
8. “Evil Friends”- Portugal. The Man: Does hearing a song you already like on a commercial or the radio make you like that song even more? Well hearing this song on a Taco Bell commercial did just that for me. And I already REALLY liked this song. The increase in tempo at the beginning sets up for one hell of a song.
7. “Give ‘Em What They Love”- Janelle Monae ft. Prince: The feature should be all you need to know about this song. But Monae holds her own with the rock legend on a song that is right in Prince’s wheelhouse.
6. “Blood On The Leaves”- Kanye West: Just another Kanye track with top notch production and second-to-none lyrics. Ho hum. But seriously, the last verse in this song is among some of his best.
5. “Fuckin’ Problems”- A$AP Rocky ft. Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and 2 Chainz: Rap song of the year. 3 solid verses and a 2 Chainz chorus. Plus a great beat.
4. “Blurred Lines”- Robin Thicke ft. Pharrell and T.I.: Stop pretending you don’t like this song. I know you’ve heard it about a million times. But it doesn’t matter. This song is still as fun as the first time I heard it. This Roots and Jimmy Fallon cover didn’t hurt either.
3. “Thrift Shop”- Macklemore ft. Ryan Lewis
2. “Royals”- Lorde: For these two songs, I’m going to have to enact a provision that I just made up known as the Lorde provision. Technically, both of these songs were released in 2012. But there is no denying these were probably the 2 biggest songs in 2013. They were everywhere. It’s pretty hard to imagine the year in music without these two songs.
1. “Get Lucky”- Daft Punk ft. Pharrell and Nile Rodgers: There was a time where I thought “Blurred Lines” was better than “Get Lucky”. I know how to admit when I’m wrong. “Get Lucky” is the clear cut song of the year, and I was a fool to think otherwise. Sidenote: You have to feel a little bad for Justin Timberlake. “Suit and Tie” was the early frontrunner for song of the summer. And then it got pushed to the side by “Get Lucky” AND “Blurred Lines”. I don’t think anyone saw that coming based off the hype of JT’s new album.
Top 5 Live Performances
5. Tie- Every performance at Kanrocksas 2013: I mean I just can’t pick one…
4. Fitz and The Tantrums- Loufest, St. Louis: I expected a high energy performance from this group, and I got exactly that. But what I was happiest about was how well their sound carries over to their live show, especially an outdoor show. The organs, horns, and vocals sound just as good live as on the albums.
3. The Roots- Beale St. Music Festival, Memphis: One of the hardest working bands in the industry definitely do not disappoint with their live show. Every song just flows into the next one and Black Thought may be the most underrated rapper in the game. The Roots seem like the type of band that has a different show night in and night out.
2. Alabama Shakes- Loufest: Seeing The Shakes and, more specifically, lead singer Brittany Howard live is such a treat. Similar to Fitz and The Tantrums, the band’s sound translates really well to a live show. And Howard’s vocal ability is absolutely mind blowing in person.
1. Big Boi- Beale St. Music Festival: There is no question Big Boi put on the best show I saw this year. He is an incredible rapper and his ability to perform from his solo and Outkast catalogs makes this a must see show. I can only imagine how this Outkast reunion is going be. Hopefully I get a chance to see it in person.
By Kurtis Klay