• December 09, 2013
Another year marks another run of great singles from a host of artists—and an even richer batch of songs just below the surface. These handpicked lesser-known cuts might not have made the charts, but they’re still worth spending some time with.
2013 will go down in the history books as the year of the “Blurred Lines,” year of the “We Can’t Stop,” year of the “Get Lucky.” Flip on the radio and you were bound to get bombarded by a cavalcade of unshakeable anthems spanning genres. Calls to twerk were omnipresent. Odes to Molly snuck their way into songs that topped the charts. From Katy Perry to Lorde, Lady Gaga to Pharrell, artists dropped enough hits to feed playlists from January through December. It was a very, very full year.
But for every album touting a smash single, a deep cut lurked. Listeners who broke their repeat button and were forced to check out the rest of an LP were rewarded with hidden gems every bit as good as the singles that compelled them in the first place. Despite the growing market for digital singles and streaming services, it turns out deep-diving into albums isn’t a lost art after all.
In case you fell into the singles trap, we’ve got you covered. The Myspace editorial staff and a gang of contributors rounded up 100 of the best deep album and mixtape cuts from the past year. Even if 2013 is almost a wrap, it’s never too late to catch up.
“305 TO MY CITY”
DRAKE, NOTHING WAS THE SAME
(OVO Sound/Young Money/Cash Money/Republic)
On the surface, “305 to My City” is a song about strippers. At its core, “305 to my City” is a song about empathy, responsibility and work ethic. Drake’s flow is unlike anything else on Nothing Was The Same—not quite singing, not quite rapping, but addictive nonetheless. Detail’s production sounds like wind blowing through Toronto on the night of a blizzard. But it’s the lyrical content that sears the record into memory. Drake emphatically tells a dancer on the pole, “I hope you don’t fall!” He congratulates her on securing a car and apartment lease, even though her parents don’t understand her line of work. The sincerity is alarming, and appreciated.
“A PERFECT LIFE”
PARTY SUPPLIES, TOUGH LOVE
As producers, Party Supplies kick chintzy, hard-nosed samples for similarly-minded goofballs like Action Bronson and Danny Brown. Their first album as a band, Tough Love embodies the same loopy, time-faded vibes as their conscripted work, but spoken in softer tones. “A Perfect Life” might be the first ballad ever written by a rap-beat squad. Pillow-y keyboards, matchstick drums and Justin Nealis’ desperately earnest voice.
“ALONE AT THE DANUBE RIVER”
DIRTY BEACHES, DRIFTERS/LOVE IS THE DEVIL
There are no words in Dirty Beaches’ “Alone At The Danube River” because there’s no one to talk to when you’re all alone. This is the sound of walking alone through a foreign city (probably at night): haunting, hypnotic and spectacularly lonely. It’s seven minutes of the most wistful guitar I’ve ever heard. A synthesizer comes in at the 4:30 mark, but it just holds one note. The song doesn’t build to anything—there’s nowhere it needs to go. In a climate of hyperbole and superlative, the sublime sometimes goes unremarked upon. Which would be a shame: This Is The Subtlest Song You’ll Hear All Year.
“BACK ON THE MAP”
KACEY MUSGRAVES, SAME TRAILER DIFFERENT PARK
The country newcomer took Nashville by storm this year with songs full of humor and sass, but Musgraves can go deep, too. The album’s best track might be “Back on the Map,” a no-joke alt-country heartbreaker that finds her down and out and sounding like vintage Whiskeytown.
“BANANA CLIPPER” (FEAT. BIG BOI)
RUN THE JEWELS, RUN THE JEWELS
When word broke that El-P and Killer Mike would be forming a group, it was unexpected, but made all the sense in the world at the same time. So Big Boi hopping on a track with the unlikely duo was just as much of a pleasant surprise. Really, did you ever think that you’d see a day where the founder of Company Flow and a half of Outkast would ever wind up on the same song together?
“BEACH IS BETTER”
JAY Z, MAGNA CARTA... HOLY GRAIL
Jay Z insists on being impatient in “Beach Is Better.” Look like Halle Berry. Beyoncé, even. Now. And he seems to do so at the expense of Mike WiLL Made It. This perpetually of-the-moment producer, then of Miley Cyrus’ “We Can't Stop,” could have easily scored another hit with “Beach” but can’t, due to its 56-second length—Magna Carta Holy Grail’s cruelest joke. Still, as it wafts in and then stampedes as Snoop Dogg once did to New York, it also shows how his music could be ubiquitous but still make listeners thirst like Jay for more. What #newrules?
KATY PERRY, PRISM
After soaking up the unshakeable sounds of Teenage Dream, PRISM was a jagged little pill. Not only was it divided across the median between upbeat tracks and ballads, but the songs were weak in the knees on both sides of the spectrum. (Of course, all praise “Roar” and “Dark Horse.” Miss me with everything else.) That is, except for “Birthday,” the “T.G.I.F. (Last Friday Night)” of PRISM. Rare is it for an artist to successfully pull off a birthday song. Stevie Wonder is one of the few raptured. But this crunches, bounces and bops in ways that some of her best songs previously have. A few months ago, I ran six miles with this one song on repeat. That’s real.
“BLACKPOOL LATE EIGHTIES”
JAMES HOLDEN, THE INHERITORS
Despite being just 34 years old, James Holden’s career spans 15 years and runs the gamut of dance music, from uplifting trance to leftfield electronica. His 2013 album The Inheritors firmly falls under the latter, and while we may never see him return to the sound of his early 2000s classics, the album’s finale, “Blackpool Late Eighties,” comes close. Gentle, warm and alien all at the same time, the track strikes the perfect balance between accessibility and experimentalism that underlined previous hits like his remix of Nathan Fake’s “The Sky Was Pink.”
Song titles doubling as wistful self portraits aren’t executed better than Phoenix’s “Bourgeois,” which is largely omitted from their recurring setlist, perhaps out of consideration for the ego of every drunken rich kid who just wants to hear “1901” before throwing up.
TRAVIS, WHERE YOU STAND
(Red Telephone Box/Kobalt Label Services)
Buried in the back half of the guitar band’s quiet return to form is “Boxes,” a bittersweet ballad that delivers everything that Britpop’s melancholy moment did so well a decade back. “You plant down your boxes and ask, ‘Who am I?’” Fran Healy sings, capturing in a line what takes most films hours.
EMINEM, THE MARSHALL MATHERS LP 2
Thirteen years and a kazillion album sales after the original MMLP kicked open the 2000s, Eminem dusted off his most complex and provocative persona this year to out-rap and out-crazy the competition. There’s no such thing as a true deep cut when you’re the most commercially successful artist on the planet for 15 years running. But it’s also true that in 2013, the best Eminem songs are no longer on the radio. “Brainless” is one of the truest nods to the early aughts on MMLP2, all demented introspection over plinking keys and an insistent pulse, courtesy of longtime Em collaborator Luis Resto. In between one of his worthiest choruses in years (no K-Fed relics here), Marshall manages to trace the path from a lifetime of being bullied to isolated defiance (“practicing trash talkin’ in a trance locked in my room”) and ultimate world domination. Oh, and he does it while veering in and out of no less than a dozen distinct flows. Like it’s nothing. He’s right: Imagination’s dangerous.
“COCOA BUTTER KISSES” (FEAT. VIC MENSA & TWISTA)
CHANCE THE RAPPER, ACID RAP
Smoking cigarettes is already a nasty habit, but it takes a lot to admit that your own mother says you stink because of it. Of the songs on Acid Rap, these five minutes of vulnerability is probably the song that either made fans out of the people who found Chance’s voice annoying or convinced his detractors that they at least gave him a chance. Or, this may be the song that made people Vic Mensa fans thinking they were listening to Chance on that second verse. Adding Chicago vet Twista to the track was a nice touch as well.
“COMFORT INN ENDING (FREESTYLE)”
JHENE AIKO, SAIL OUT
She’s been around since B2K was a thing, but 2013 was finally the year that Jhene Aiko stopped being slept on (thanks to your boy Drizzy). The most impressive track on her EP isn’t any of the tracks with amazing features on them, but the very last song which was a FREESTYLE. She literally calls out—by name—all the dudes who fucked her over, while being so real with emotional pain that it forces you to reassess your own relationship. Yet even with all that pain, Jhene STAYS independent and inspiring no matter what.
“DANCE ON THE MOON” (FEAT. THEOPHILUS LONDON AND PAUL WALL)
TRAVI$ SCOTT, OWL PHARAOH
It’s weird this track from Travi$ Scott’s Owl Pharoah tape wasn’s a single because its hook could have been lifted from a big room festival anthem aimed at white girls in body paint. But most big room festival anthems don’t screw up halfway through to make room for a verse from Paul Wall. Rap in 2013 is a strange place.
TORO Y MOI, ANYTHING IN RETURN
In which a lil’ chillwaver named Chaz shuffles up to you, hands in his pockets, and slowly scoops up the confidence to declare his delightfully quotidian dedication to you: “I want to make my life yours / I’ll wake up with you and I’ll give you rides / It don’t no matter if it’s cold outside / Doesn’t matter if it’s day or night.” The sweetest song of 2013. A staple for “I fucks with you, girl”-themed mixtapes or downloadable .zip files or iCloud links or however us humans will use to communicate our love to other people via other people’s music in the future.
BEAT DETECTIVES, CASUAL ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND
Steve from Moon Glyph put this tape out. I don’t know anything about these guys which, given the song’s title, seems about right. The main synth line reminds me of the hoverboard level from Battletoads, and there’s this cheap slap bass sample they pull out for the end (strong Seinfeld vibes). Lopatin does similar stuff with “bad” sounding synthesizers, “bad” retro, et cetera, but whatever. This one is more up my street. As a side note, I don’t think Beat Detectives are nostalgic, just deliberately naive. Or maybe I just don’t want to know anything about them. At any rate, welcome to the deep web. Top five for sure.
“DEGRASSI PICTURE DAY”
OPEN MIKE EAGLE AND BUSDRIVER, DORNER VS. TOOKIE
Open Mike is probably the most critically acclaimed rapper in Los Angeles who isn’t named Kendrick Lamar. Mike is a rap virtuoso who’s blended years of experience garnered outside the mythical Project Blowed with a unique self aware personalized style of songwriting. “Degrassi Picture Day” is a trip down memory lane and recounts the anticipation and childlike wonder of having your school portrait snapped by a Life Touch employee. Everything from picking out the perfect outfit to moms picking out the right frame. The hook climaxes with the purest “My daddy better put me on his wall.” It’s progressive, original and something that could only come from Mike’s imagination.
JAMES BLAKE, OVERGROWN
Ever since Overgrown came out in April, I’ve been waiting to listen to it in the dead of winter. Even Blake’s album art conveys the stark frigidity and stillness of a snowy day, and “DLM” is probably the best track to listen to by firelight. As the most stripped back track on the record with just some piano and Blake’s harmonies echoing in the background, it reminds me of some sort of dark, haunting church choir.
“DO MY THANG”
MILEY CYRUS, BANGERZ
The gossip surrounding Miley Cyrus clouds one simple fact: She makes good music. Sure, Miley’s made her antics enough of a spectacle that they take precedence, but ultimately, they’re a distraction—at best, marketing. What’s hidden beneath every racy Terry Richardson photo is a young woman with a strong voice. Bangerz deep cut, “Do My Thang,” is a shining example of that. The pre-chorus has her wailing country-style vocals with impressive range, but once you settle into appreciating Miley’s more traditional talents, she throws caution to the wind and starts RAPPING. It’s clumsy, irrational and with a bass-heavy EDM beat to carry the rhymes. Awesome.
“Dream Captain” is a raw-voiced plea to Bradford Cox’s Mr. Fantasy and the killer queens of FM radio’s past. On this cut from the Atlanta band’s fifth album (sixth if you count Weird Era Cont.), classic rock postures get full-on scuzzified and reach the point of lurid ecstasy. This being Deerhunter, fascination and repulsion and isolation provide the emotional rocket fuel, but the sound is so gnarly that it’s sure to burst any dream pop expectations you have of them.
“DRINK YOU AWAY”
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, THE 20/20 EXPERIENCE – 2 OF 2
I love me some old school-inspired slap-happy R&B music. Tennessee kid Justin Timberlake really amped this track up fueling the simple “I wish I was wasted because my heart is broken” song with slide guitar and tons of electric guitar. Appealing to his homies in the south, I like that this track wasn’t just another pop/hip=hop slammer. It broke up the album a bit and let us know, once again, that JT is a Southern boss who isn’t just a one trick pony. I like this song at about 11:30 p.m., after a few whiskeys with my homies around a campfire shooting the shit and remembering good old times.
A$AP FERG, TRAP LORD
(ASAP Worldwide/Polo Grounds/RCA)
Everybody knows rappers love to rap about sleeping with your girlfriend. But even with that understanding, something about Ferg’s “Dump Dump” feels very disrespectful. It might have been one of the most disrespectful songs of the year—if not the most. After all the hook is: “I fucked your bitch, nigga / I fucked your bitch / She sucked my dick, nigga, she sucked my dick.” Even with all that though, there was a certain playful energy that Ferg brought to it that made you feel okay about liking the song. As if it didn’t matter because he wasn’t talking about your girl.
MOUNT MORIAH, MIRACLE TEMPLE
Miracle Temple has more immediate moments than “Eureka Springs.” It has the more powerfully pastoral “Swannanoa,” the more immediate power chug of “Bright Light.” But “Eureka Springs” is the band’s most indicative track. It conjures up workers squinting into the blazing heat and wiping your brow in Heather McEntire’s timeless vocal dexterity and homespun lyricism. It sketches shared whiskey bottles after church in the track’s instantly classic double guitar solo. On an album of such consistency, this track’s Americana yearning reads as the record’s definitive statement.
SELENA GOMEZ, STARS DANCE
There’s literally nothing better than a break up song where you AREN’T totally bummed out by the fate of your pop star relationship. Selena definitely gets sad in other tracks, but this one she is just like BYE BIEBER FORGETTING YOU. Also there are wedding bell sounds leading up to the chorus, which is basically like, ‘Wow I have a great album and you are never going to marry me.’ If that isn’t something worth listening to 80 times in a row, then you can forget forever too.
SPEEDY ORTIZ, MAJOR ARCANA
Revenge is a dish best served ice cold, and Massachusetts’ favorite fuzz-rockers Speedy Ortiz serve it up on a freezing platter. Here guitars tangle and the beckoning vocals of frontwoman Sadie Dupuis are slow, menacing as she growls, "Do you lay down on your carpet / Counting your friends ‘til you get to one?" From the band’s razor-sharp release Major Arcana, “Gary” is a dare, both to the presumed enemy Gary and the listener. “I’ve grown some very big teeth,” she declares at the end. Have you?
CAITLIN ROSE, THE STAND-IN
The most personal song on an already personal album, “Golden Boy” addresses a special lover with a sigh of regret for how things have turned out. “There’s future in your smile,” she sings. “How can you say that you and I are through?”
MARK KOZELEK & JIMMY LAVALLE, PERILS FROM THE SEA
Mark Kozelek’s songs sometimes feel like poems, but he lets you know this one’s a short story right away: “Gustavo was an illegal immigrant.” Mark hires him to work on his house and they become friends, or friendly. Eventually Gustavo runs into a “redneck Sunnyside highway cop.” He gets deported, then calls Mark from a Tijuana payphone, asking him for money to hire a border coyote. Mark hangs up and says “I’m sorry.” His “heart is heavy.” He “feels uneasy.” There’s an interlude—Mark mentions hiring a licensed contractor who “quit ‘cause his wife was dying of cancer”—then his girlfriend asks what happened to that guy from Mexico. “I don't give much thought to Gustavo,” Mark says, but I don’t think I believe him. Me, I think about “Gustavo” all the time.
ELLIE GOULDING, HALCYON DAYS
You know those songs that are best listened to, headphones on, during some sort of public transportation experience? This is one of them. Walking through the airport, blocking out the loudspeaker, the complaints, the transpo cart for oldies and crips (oops, people with ski injuries)… This song lifts up your ribcage and lets you float through time and space friction-free. The lights are pretty and traveling feels like magic.
VAMPIRE WEEKEND, MODERN VAMPIRES OF THE CITY
Girls who have indie rock songs named after them have that certain je ne sais quoi. They’re real-life Manic Pixie Dream Girls. Hannah Hunt is no different—at least not the one fantasized in the song. But here are the facts: The real Hannah Hunt is in the band Dominant Legs and is currently dating Christopher Owens (of now-defunct Girls). She and Koenig sat next to each other in Buddhism class in college, and Koenig liked her name so much that he named a song after her. Now, show of hands—who wants to name a song after me?
DAVID BOWIE, THE NEXT DAY
For the most part, Bowie’s first studio album in a decade was fairly a straightforward excursion into rock and roll. But the finale, “Heat,” left listeners in a far more introspective state, from the cosmic synths that launch at the beginning of the track to lyrics like “My father ran the prison / But I am a seer, I am a liar.” Longing, contemplative and melancholy, it’s the closest The Next Day gets to “Heroes” or any of the material from Bowie’s halcyon Berlin days.
“HEAVEN’S AFTERNOON” (FEAT. MEEK MILL)
WALE, THE GIFTED
Maybach Music Group duo Wale and Meek Mill unify under the surprisingly humble chorus of “We ain't supposed to never have nothing / We ain't supposed to never have shit” and deliver the year’s most underrated and—for 2013—uncharacteristically earnest rap performance.
SAVAGES, SILENCE YOURSELF
Singer/lyricist Jehnny Beth says she wrote this song as homage to the porn star Belladonna’s “twisted, original desires.” I’m not sure you can call BDSM “twisted” at this point without pissing off some vocal faction of the community, but I’m willing to give Beth the benefit of the doubt, assume she merely meant “non-normative,” and add “Hit Me” to a thematic canon that includes such classy classics as The Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs,” Depeche Mode’s “Master and Servant” and NOFX’s “S&M Airlines.”
ARIANA GRANDE, YOURS TRULY
Ariana Grande looks like a future member of the 27 Club. Despite appearing dead in the eyes while wearing Jessica Rabbit dresses in public, she oozes charisma, power and sex. She hits high notes, but looks like she’s going to pull a Britney in a millisecond. It’s the most attractive look in music—it’s why we loved Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain—and she captures it while singing teen pop songs. This song’s lyrics about her heart being caught-up in “bumper to bumper traffic” captures this image perfectly. Unfortunately, it also means she’ll die pretty soon, but, hey, all pop music comes with a price!
“I DO IT” (FEAT. DRAKE & LIL WAYNE)
2 CHAINZ, B.O.A.T.S. II: ME TIME
Real talk: Everyone who was so quick to sweat B.O.A.T.S. and so quick to dismiss B.O.A.T.S. II needs to check themselves. It’s not like Tity went and switched up the recipe all crazy between the two—he just went back in and cooked up another batch! But since the Internet ran away from this album as quickly as it ran toward the original, let’s just set the record straight now and say there’s definitely a lot to like here. The singles—“Feds Watching” and “Used 2”—are all official. And as for this joint? Bananas. Yes, it’s a bit of a revise of Jeezy’s “Who Dat” (also produced by Shawty Redd, who gets a credit here), but, really, isn’t that a great thing? (Who doesn’t want more “Who Dat” records in the world? Point ’em out!) Then there’s the seamless Drizzy-Weezy-Drizzy movement in the second verse, which sounds like what just may be the most fun moment shared by two rap superstars on record this year. Keeper.
“I WANNA BE YOUR HAND”
HOLY GHOST, DYNAMICS
This bumpy blue-eyed soul sore thumb from Dynamics, Holy Ghost!’s sophomore ’70s and ’80s sampler (Elvis Costello! Kano! New Order! Jan Hammer!) gets its Joan Didion on via an asymmetric L.A.-based break-up song full of longing and petulance, which are kind of the same thing anyway, right? And oh, those waves of crunchy guitars and “Hotel California (Demo)” drum machines. Transcendent pastiche. Also: Holy Ghost! cannily covered Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” Let’s hope a “I Wanna Be Your Hand” cover from Drizzy drops soon.
“IF I COULD CHANGE YOUR MIND”
HAIM, DAYS ARE GONE
Whitney’s “How Will I Know,” Janet’s “Pleasure Principle,” The Bangles’ “Manic Monday”—it’s all bubbling under the surface of this sleeper hit from the Haim sisters’ debut. The whole album puts a new spin on ‘80s rhythmic pop and windswept love goddesses like Stevie Nicks, but “If I Could Change Your Mind” is where the trio really smooths out its edges, dialing down the manic flourishes of “Wire” and “Falling” so that singer Danielle Sari can really sink her teeth into lovelorn lyrics about wild times betrayed by lying eyes—you know, all that bygone good stuff. Of course, it’s also got a juicy subtextual reading: a band of gorgeous and talented girls, fighting to convince skeptics to forgive the outsized hype and accept them as the real deal. Consider their point proven.
JON HOPKINS, IMMUNITY
Immunity is probably the best whatever-we’re-calling-it-now album of 2013 (techno, ambient, experimental electronic—anything but EDM). While much of the album features some kind of discernible four-four thump couched in Hopkins’ signature melodic static, closer “Immunity” is 10 minutes of undulating textures, wistful piano chords and distant, ghostly vocals. It’s as evocative of sea spray and crashing waves as it is androids dreaming of electric sheep, the perfect come-down after an album’s worth of gnarled, gnarly beats.
PROTOMARTYR, NO PASSION ALL TECHNIQUE
My old haunt was a place called Guu’s. And every night we’d get pitchers of good beer for $8 and someone would set a pack of bad cigarettes down on the table and we’d talk about nothing and eventually make horrible decisions. But before that there was a little touch-screen game in the elbow of the bar where you had to look at a two similar pictures of a naked women side by side find the impossible-to-see differences between them. It was like if the cover of Hustler took over the cover of Highlights. I was fucking great at this game. Joe Casey, the acerbic baritone in the sharp and sloppy Detroit garage rock band Protomartyr knows what I’m talking about, because their bar is called Jumbo’s and every night at Jumbo’s it’s a struggle for him: “I won’t touch that screen no more / I will not have a drink.” I just love the way this song staggers in and spits in your face—makes it seem like it’s a losing battle for him. Isn’t that the truth?
PUSHA T, MY NAME IS MY NAME
(GOOD Music/Def Jam)
Over military drums and aggressive synths, Pusha sets off his G.O.O.D. Music and solo debut, My Name Is My Name, with an unapologetic declaration of what he’s about. It’s clear from dismissive lines like “My first Grammy was my first brick” and “I got a label deal under my mattress” that he has no plans to change and won’t be giving up his mantle as a Cocaine Rap king any time soon. He’s on record saying he had the best rap album of the year, and “King Push” is proof that it wasn’t a goal he was merely trying to speak into existence, but one that he put his all into pursuing.
Rhye might have been one of my favorite indie discoveries this year. The band’s singles “The Fall” and “Open” were flames but I was a little perplexed how “Open” beat out “Last Dance” in the single category. “Last Dance” is everything that I love about Rhye: laid back, sexy, a little throwback and easily put on repeat. Don’t sleep on this band, or this single. I suggest listening to this while on a nice quiet date at home sipping on some Pinot Noir.
FLAGITIOUS IDIOSYNCRASY IN THE DILAPIDATION, WALLOW
All-female Japanese grindcore foursome Flagitious Idiosyncrasy in the Dilapidation (they don’t know what it means, either) just released a new LP, and man, y’all are missing out. “Let’s Go” is a schizophrenic rock and roll nightmare pulled straight from the MC5’s half-rotten craniums. The beat sashays between Neanderthal simplicity and frantic blastbeats, the guitar tone is straight Scum, and Makiko’s curdled howls and inhuman death grunts really pull the whole manic mess together. The mid-song break pops off like a sweatpants boner (swiftly wilted by more vocal menace) then swings back into that weird proto-punk grind groove.
If M.I.A.’s new album ended two tracks early with this hypnotizer, that’d be just fine. Co-produced by her brother Sugu and Switch, “Lights” is as splintered and sound-obsessed as anything else on Matangi, but as critic Julianne Escobedo Shepherd pointed out in this space, it has the quality of a trippy lullaby, intimate and soothing as she downright coos about rainbows and headlights over the steady rattle of an egg shaker. It shifts, of course, to nervier ground when M.I.A. lifts her guard back up (“For me to tell you things you need to be the right kind”) and vibrating bass takes hold at the center. But the effect is an unusually intimate kind of tension that M.I.A. lets linger, resolving it only with subdued optimism: “I think we can make it.”
“LITURGY OF LIGHT”
ANNA VON HAUSSWOLFF, CEREMONY
Ceremony dives right into the pool of religious imagery, and no song works better under that context than “Liturgy Of Light.” Serving as the emotional crest, it is an orchestral ritual of hope in a bleak world. “It’s a long road… that we share,” she sings, wanting to take some of the burden off your back.
DAWN OF MIDI, DYSNOMIA
Trying to write about one track on Dysnomia, the incredible 40-minute composition from Brooklyn’s Dawn of Midi, is like describing one corner of a painting. Without ingesting the entire composition, it’s largely futile. But here we are. You would guess by looking at the trio of grand piano, upright bass, and drums they’d be a jazz combo. But they exempt themselves from classification by using extended techniques more familiar to John Cage than Charles Minugs: playing within the piano while also on the keys, emulating African talking drums with the bass, altering the drum set acoustically to sound electronic. Is Dysnomia jazz, is it world, is it minimal-acoustic, is it American minimalism? Whatever you call it, it’s a circuitous tweak of timbre and close melody that is impossible not to groove to. Every single note of these head-bobbing polyrhythms is meticulously placed, landing somewhere between Squarepusher and Steve Reich. Addictive and inspired.
TYLER, THE CREATOR, WOLF
(Odd Future/Sony Red)
Tyler, the Creator’s personal excoriations are typically aimed at his gun-and-run father, but it’s with the bonus track “Lone” from his third album Wolf that he let the no-bullshit wall crumble and dig into something deeply visceral: the death of a loved one. Over a crinkly jazz loop, the West Coast provocateur pays a visit to his therapist and emotes on the hardship of his grandmother’s passing (“Grandmother died, didn’t cry, not a tear / Not gonna lie, fuckin’ weird no water dripped out the eye”). It’s the rawest Tyler gets on the album—fuck it, all of his albums—and it lifts the veil on the sarcastic lilt threaded through his preceding projects.
DANNY BROWN, OLD
Weaving himself inside a burst of mesmerizing lite psych courtesy of U.K. producer Paul White, Detroit rapper Danny Brown gets contemplative with some low-key sad raps about when life found him going Spam and saving money for his girl’s abortion. Often the impulse with Danny Brown is to treat him like a cartoon instead of an actual human being, but here he makes the most of being misunderstood, telling himself, the listener and everyone else, “Nobody really know me.”
SWEARIN’, SURFING STRANGE
I’ve been on a huge Breeders bender for the last few months, so I was in the right mindset when the sophomore album from Philly/Brooklyn pop-punks Swearin’ came out this fall. There’s tons of stuff there worthy of your head-banging, but right in the middle of it all sits a respite from the riffs. The strongest of Swearin’’s three singers, Allison Crutchfield holds it down with just an electric guitar and “it’s complicated” lyrics that, though vague, may feel familiar to 20-somethings. Her vulnerability, however, is ageless—and one of the staples of the Crutchfield twins’ songwriting.
NATALIA KILLS, TROUBLE
Enter Natalia Kills and her ballad “Marlboro Lights,” which involves raw goose-bump-inducing vocals and suicidal thoughts (“a lonely bridge, a rooftop ledge could just fix everything”). I call her music Girl, Interrupted-pop for a reason.
MARY GOLD, SEX HORMONE’D DRUGGIE
I’ve been watching a lot of American Horror Story this year, and when I first heard Mary Gold’s voice, I imagined how perfect it would be to have a séance to it. I haven’t done that yet, but her “Prayer” song is probably the most unsettling form of beauty I’ve come across in music in a while. But it's on her “Mother Mary” intro to the tape that strikes you as something unusual, and her lyrics are simply hypnotizing. She’s also a nudist and loves getting high, so if you’re into naked séances with drugs, this is your soundtrack.
MILEY CYRUS, BANGERZ
2013’s most ubiquitous twerker and the soul-master from the trap side of the moon’s duet reimagines “Stand By Me,” Ben E. King’s Billboard’s R & B chart #1 from 1961. “Future Hendrix’s” Auto-Tuned love warbles meld with a solid vocal performance from Miley Cyrus for the ultimate tearjerker into your double-cup of lean.
“NARCO TRAFFICANTE” (FEAT. PERCY KEITH)
KEVIN GATES, THE LUCA BRASI STORY
Murky and bubbly, it’s the sound of wading through the bayou with bricks of cocaina strapped to your chest. This song makes me want to start doing illegal things for the first time in my life.
HOODED FANG, GRAVEZ
(Full Time Hobby)
Pretty much all of Gravez sounds like either being stoned and sad or just really, really tired and hungover, but "Never Minding" is the apex. Singer Daniel Lee is beyond exhaustion, sleeping in all his clothes, lurking bleak truck stops, stuck in his head. Over a catchy garage riff that sounds like it was plucked directly from some dude's actual garage band, Lee sings "In the morning when we're nice and clean, we bleed a little bit out," it's a dark moment, but still, the track is a joyful one. Being bleary eyed and sick of it all never sounded so appealing.
(Vested in Culture/Epic)
My discovery of this Danish electronic soul duo of producer Robin Hannibal (who’s one-half of Rhye) and vocalist Coco O has been an absolute joy. The song, off their elegant sophomore effort Avalanche, serves as the perfect theme for a wedding reception or a drive down the Palisades Interstate Parkway just when the leaves are turning red (yes, I’ve played it for both occasions). I didn’t notice the jazzy, retro pop “Neverland,” meant to be a tribute to the almighty MJ, but I guess its title and refined radio sensibility (though it wasn’t a single) tie everything together.
“NEW MUSEM” (FEAT. BUSDRIVER AND OPEN MIKE EAGLE)
ARMAND HAMMER, RACE MUSIC
The deepest cut on an album of deep cuts. Four thwarted artists bitch about the industry, the perils of “indie” fame, the nature of art itself and being ignored by jerks they didn’t care about in the first place. This song won’t make them famous because people, generally speaking, suck.
“NEW YORK BANDS”
OOZING WOUND, RETRASH
The decentralization of New York will eventually come to pass, whether we all finally decide that it’s just cheaper to live in, like, Wilkes Barre, or whether the city floods in 50 years after the all the ice melts off Greenland. But trust me, the whole thing’s gonna jump off when Chicago thrash punks Oozing Wound comes and storms into Death By Audio and sets fire to some synth-bro’s Uniqlo jeans. “New York Bands” is not only a fiery piece of invective about bands that “just want your cocaine,” but a seismic howl from the Midwest to remind those filing into noise shows at Silent Barn and metal shows at St. Vitus that a sardonic band from a fly-over state built a song that barely contains itself and will cleft skulls. Also, it sounds like they already got all the cocaine they need.
“NIGERIA” (FEAT. GUCCI MANE & PEEWEE LONGWAY)
YOUNG THUG, 1017 THUG
Thugger claims he’s smoking weed from Nigeria. Some friends across the pond heard this and informed me that Nigerian weed is “rubbish” (or possibly “bollocks,” I can’t remember).
“NO HEART, NO LOVE” (FEAT. PROJECT PAT)
JUICY J, STAY TRIPPY
First things first: damn near this whole album should be on this list. A lifetime in the making, Juicy J’s first major label solo album took the off the cuff flashes of genius on his mixtapes, ramped up the production value, honed in on the bright lights and stuck to the script—unapologetic gangsta-ass raps laid over a bed of bottom-heavy gangsta-ass beats built for one reason and one reason only: to get that motherfucker (man, woman, child, club, house party, shake junt—any motherfucker) turnt all the way the fuck up again and again and again and again. And this record, the third track on the album and the third track in a row that just really doesn’t give a fuck about radio or commercial singles or easing you into the project or telling any other narrative except lay it down, lay it down, is such a perfect example of everything that’s great about Juicy J, his brother Project Pat, the legacy of Three 6 Mafia, Memphis rap and the blossoming genius of young gunner Yung Chop, that you’ve just gotta give it up. Mafia!
MAKTHAVERSKAN, MAKTHAVERSKAN II
At this point it feels like Sweden’s main export is quality pop music, and we’re all the better for it. But for all the Robyns in the world there are also the Makthaverskans, brooding dream pop with an impossible to pronounce name (it loosely translates to “Strong Woman” in English). “No Mercy,” one of the best tracks on the band’s sophomore LP, showcases frontwoman Maja Milner at her most ferocious, almost yell-singing the chorus, “Fuck you for fucking me when I was 17.” She’s brave, and pissed, and bummed. Misery is danceable.
“NOBODY ASKED ME (IF I WAS OKAY)”
SKY FERREIRA, NIGHT TIME, MY TIME
Ever so often a pop album comes along wherein singles are near impossible to identify. These are the albums that have long incubation periods, are delicately reviewed and revisited. Sky Ferriera’s long-awaited (and “long” is a term used lightly here) twelve-track debut is a prime example. While it has achilles’ heel, it also has moments like “Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay),” a self-loathing dance tune. There’s a youthful despondency here: she’s not sad, she’s not okay, and it’s a shame no one has recognized it. The track won’t be a single, that’s for sure, but here Ferreira has identified and isolated what it means to be a young person in 2013: confusion. That’s a powerful thing.
KANYE WEST, YEEZUS
There are people on this Earth who don’t think that “On Sight” is a good song. Ignore them. Rapping over Daft Punk’s glitchy, acid production—to start an album, no less—is the most ambitious risk of Kanye’s musical career. It’s the reason why more people hate Yeezus than they did 808s & Heartbreak. The subversiveness is brilliant, though. Kanye is so fucking angry and it’s more exciting to hear that aggression channeled into music than any other medium. There’s not a single record this year that sounds even remotely similar to “On Sight.” Hip-hop needs that. Don’t be scared of the future.
“(ONE OF THOSE) CRAZY GIRLS”
(Fueled By Ramen/Warner)
For years, I claimed that every boy I hooked up with was trouble when he walked in. This year, I realized most those guys blocked me on Facebook, and it was the other way around—I was trouble when I walked in. At first, I denied this, then I lay on my bed feeling like a creep, and finally I ran around in my room blasting this Paramore song, feeling terrible about myself but by the end of the song I realized the world is full of crazy girls, and it’s totally OK if I’m one of them. Since then, this song has become my anthem.
MY BLOODY VALENTINE, m b v
Twenty years later, My Bloody Valentine’s tongue-in-cheek tales of passion and loneliness are all too prescient with their Loveless follow-up, m b v. The second track from the new record is a surging, guitar-driven elegy to the slippery nature of love. “Only tomorrow the love comes easy,” they croon, at once hopeful and acknowledging the phantom tomorrow with its new obstacles. Galloping rhythms and the falsetto oohs of Bilinda Butcher all meld into the fuzz of this beautiful song, with a foot pointed towards the future. Yet “Only Tomorrow” is mostly a promise from our favorite eardrum shredders—they don’t intend to fade into the shadows anytime soon.
ARCADE FIRE, REFLEKTOR
I get it, there’s a lot here that could come across as trying too hard, from the finger snaps and whispering to the title itself. As the Washington Post’s infamously scathing review pointed out, who calls a song “you could play for your parents” “Porno”? It’s not a song about sex, really, but rather the way we can push against ingrained gender norms when it comes to love, if we so choose. Among Reflektor’s numerous tracks criticizing cultural normalcy, this one also sticks out from the bunch for its eeriness, which recalls Neon Bible more than Studio 54 or Haitian Carnival. Plus those synths? Everything.
At first blush, the twenty minutes of “Propeller” seem like an extended shimmer, like squinting into the ice of your windshield as it melts in the morning sun. But beyond that initial impression is an entire ecosystem. Within it, little scribbles of wiggling guitars create imperceptible ripples, where a slightly off-kilter and off-time reflection of the surface synth vibration marks hidden depth, where the patience of repetition renders endurance. “Propeller” is a meditation, and the underrated centerpiece of an under appreciated album.
“PUSHER LOVE GIRL”
JUSTIN TIMERLAKE, THE 20/20 EXPERIENCE
I love me some white boy falsetto, I really do. It’s amazing that someone can slip through the nasal and go straight to the head with their singing, somehow completely skipping over the chest and throat. I don't physically understand it, but audibly, I love that shit. “Pusher Love Girl” had to grow on me. Initially I wasn’t totally sold and skipped over it to find my way to singles “Tunnel Vision” and “Mirrors” but after seeing the white Luther Vandross perform the song at his Staple Center show, I was hooked. The guitar part alone is groovy without being noticeably groovy and anytime someone calls me “Lil Mama” I’m like melted on the floor. I suggest you throw this number on after you and your date have sipped your cognac and are ready to start talking feelings.
NEKO CASE, THE WORSE THINGS GET, THE HARDER I FIGHT, THE HARDER I IGHT, THE MORE I LOVE YOU
“Ragtime” is the light at the end of Neko Case’s tunnel—the warm, horn-flecked embrace that caps off an album’s worth of cutting, bruising short stories and character studies. A blizzard roars through her city and she finds comfort in its white crush, its timelessness; she steels herself and comes out stronger when it’s finished.
PRODIGY & ALCHEMIST, ALBERT EINSTEIN
Despite the unsafe title, the post-incarcerated P doesn’t drop bodies and Alchemist’s production stays calm with a soul loop. The album’s filled with blood money odes and braggadocios thug ballads for stick ups, but as one of the closers, “Raw Forever,” leans on the lighter end of boasting, and even touches on financial advising. It’s always entertaining to hear P dropping jewels on life, while never forgetting to emphasize his greatness (“I don’t need jewelry my presence enough”). It adds an extra layer of humor and brilliance when it’s done so tranquilly on a smoked-out musical backdrop.
MIGOS, YOUNG RICH NIGGAZ
Though YRN was packed with joyful, catchy songs, like potential single of the year “Versace” and the equally infectious “Hannah Montana,” “R.I.P.” is the real stunner of the mixtape. It’s also barely even a song. Over drums that skitter and snap like roaches, Quavo, Offset and Takeoff repeat the haunting mantra “Two cups filled up with Easter pink / Take a minute, RIP O.G Dee.” It’s a spare, raw moment, pushed further into the black by the lone verse at the end: “I’m sitting in my room reading the Bible / Skip wiping down a dirty rifle…” It’s not easy to capture the horrifying finality of death; that Migos managed to do it with pathos is revelatory.
“RUN FOR THE WILDERNESS”
GRANT HART, THE ARGUMENT
Grant Hart is not dead. The quiet half of Hüsker Dü has certainly been overshadowed by the consistent, prodigious and commercially viable output of Bob Mould, but The Argument stands for itself. A sprawling, gothic epic taking direct inspiration from John Milton’s angry opus Paradise Lost, “Run For The Wilderness” is an ode to a very biblical apocalypse, the kind that’s just as exhilarating as it is terrifying. The threat of extinction always makes for excellent rock songs, but Hart takes a unifying pleasure in staring back through the void.
HAIR POLICE, MERCURIAL RITES
To simply write these sounds off as “scary” or “punishing” is a disservice to the craft of Hair Police’s first album in five years, one of the emotionally deepest, tonally limited, most-composed of 2013. It’s uncanny how overlooked Mercurial Rites went, given the sudden fluency of this prankster noise trio. Was this a virus of the Death Grips... Deep Web files? How did Twitter suddenly know Pharmakon existed and when did Swans become the establishment at the center of the age-importance/rock-band intersect? Girl Talk heard the call and actually mashed up “The Beautiful People” with “Black Skinhead,” a populist over-yaw that Chris Weingarten initially heard as fabricated. We all had been wrong from the beginning, yet aggression and noise were actually what we wanted to hear. It doesn't matter if the aggression on Mercurial Rites is completely incidental—it is very real. It sounds astonishing and perceptible because we’re just catching up with what the noise freaks traded on cassette years ago, finally developing the taste buds to palliate something this strong.
BULLY, BULLY EP
Hyperbolic statements about baby bands with just a few songs to their name are a dime a dozen these days, so without overblowing my load, the debut EP from Nashville’s Bully offers four very good reasons to keep your eye on them in the future. “Sharktooth” is a superb showcase of frontwoman Alicia Bognanno’s deceptively familiar songwriting—’90s indie rock that finds slacker-dom boring especially when dancing’s an option—and striking voice, an airy, arid drawl that exudes a particularly curbed cool when she’s cutting down downright jerks. As simple a statement as it is, there are few things more satisfying than the way Bognanno delivers “Sharktooth”’s choral kiss-off, “It’s time to buck up Billy be a man.”
“SIERRA LEONE/GREEDY HO’S”
BIG SEAN, HALL OF FAME
(G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam)
A rapper is often as good as the production he or she cherry-picks for major label releases, so it’s puzzling how quickly the critical and rap communities went from handjobbing Kanye’s underling to vexing him. The truth is, Hall of Fame was far from a disappointment, even by Sean’s goofball standards. (I do not stan for “Dance (A$$)”; it was cultural entrapment by trend exploitation.) In fact, his second LP was one of the strongest production coups in hip-hop this year. His lyrics may have been stuck on medium (and “Control” pretty much exonerated him), but it’s with “Sierra Leone/Greedy Ho’s” that the lyrical and musical orbits synced. Sure, the spoil-her-dirty peg is worn, but it feels warm and inviting over the textured No I.D. and James Poyser instrumental. Not even Mike Posner’s sneak background vocals could ruin this overlooked gem.
KACEY MUSGRAVES, SAME TRAILER DIFFERENT PARK (Mercury Nashville)
At the beginning of the delightful Same Trailer Different Park is this four-minute encapsulation of the album to come. Kacey Musgraves deals in country tropes with a twist, turning traditional themes of drinkin’ and fightin’ into inspirational ballads. Here, her plea is for taking a risk; after all, “if you wanna find the honey, you can’t be scared of the bees.”
“SINCERELY ANTIQUE” (FEAT. ACTION BRONSON AND WILLIE THE KID)
ROC MARCIANO, THE PIMPIRE STRIKES BACK
(Man Bites Dog)
It’s hard to ignore Bronson’s backwards-ass misogyny on this one as it bookends his verse, but in between, he talks about how the “elk is in the oven” and how “African mud exfoliate the skin,” which makes up for it. For Willie, it’s all “Black 550’s at the wine tasting” and Roc shows up smelling like Egyptian Musk in “a vintage tux, the Dillinger’s tucked.” All of this ludicrous language flows over a doo-wop vocal sample, which just underscores the exquisite gangsta luxury. This song is totally aspirational with no aspirations to be a hit and that’s a sincerely antique notion.
“SO FAR AWAY”
CHARLI XCX, TRUE ROMANCE
Charli XCX is a pop omnivore, and “So Far Away” finds her engaging in True Romance’s deepest crate-digging: She samples Todd Rundgren’s tender 1974 ballad “A Dream Goes On Forever” to create a toxic, gaseous plume of a song that’s as pretty as it is devastating.
JAY Z, MAGNA CARTA... HOLY GRAIL
Jay Z had some heavy hitters, as per usual, with his 2013 release but a song that I believe to be single-worthy was the piano-laden “Somewhereinamerica.” This song reminds me of an elevated cut that could’ve been found on Blue Print 2.0 and I am a little shocked it wasn’t a single. This track is the epitome of everything I want to listen to on repeat while riding the subway in New York at 4:30 p.m. in September, walking up and down Broadway, popping into stores, grabbing coffee, copping a pair of fresh sneakers and breathing in crisp cold air.
“SPRUNG” (FEAT. TEEFLII)
YG, JUST RE’D UP 2
The West reigned again this year: YG made a Southern connect with Jeezy the Snowman, DJ Mustard signed to Jigga’s Roc Nation and TeeFlii, a crump dancer-slash-freaky spawn of ’90s group Jodeci, dethroned last year’s artsy R&B crooners. “Sprung” not only introduced TeeFlii to the masses, it also joined three of ratchet’s main purveyors together to succinctly deliver the genre’s mission statement. Catchy as can be, and bonus points for YG’s unabashed admission of being a 10-minute man.
BILL CALLAHAN, DREAM RIVER
The best Bill Callahan songs are the ones where he imparts simple wisdom with that half-sung voice that sounds like its carved from granite. His latest record, Dream River, is full of moments like that, but “Summer Painter” really cuts to the core when he sings: “Rich man’s folly and poor man’s dream / I’m painting these while beavers build dams all around me.” Callahan’s never very forthcoming with information on who or what his songs are about, but it seems like this one is tackling the uncertainty of art, the nature of work and how to navigate a complicated life, a.k.a. being an adult. We could all use the advice.
“SUNDAY” (FEAT. FRANK OCEAN)
EARL SWEATSHIRT, DORIS
After their stellar collaboration on “Super Rich Kids,” off Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, it was welcome news that the two got together again for Earl’s major label debut. I just remember people saying to me after hearing this song, ‘Damn, I wish Frank Ocean would drop a rap album.’ The R&B crooner took shots at Chris Brown (“And why’s his mug all bloody, that was a three on one?”) and generally displayed an impressive flow while not embarrassing himself rapping alongside arguably Odd Future’s most skilled lyrical technician.
WAXAHATCHEE, CERULEAN SALT
It’s difficult to make any dents in the oversaturated music sphere in 2013, especially with just an unadulterated voice and simple guitar riffs. For Waxahatchee, the solo project of 24-year-old, Alabama-born-and-Philly-based Katie Crutchfield, folk sensibilities and delicate lyrics on the universal human experience do the trick. “Swan Dive,” a track with just her inner thoughts and crooning voice, tells of uneasy feelings about a waning relationship. The hallmark of a Waxahatchee song is penetrating intimacy. This one just makes the listener wish they knew Crutchfield better.
“THE SOUND OF MY CEILING FAN”
DIARRHEA PLANET, I’M RICH BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS
Yes, even a band named Diarrhea Planet can grow up. While they don’t abandon the sing-along garage-punk fun of tracks like “Raft Nasty” and “Warm Ridin’” on their second full-length, the Nashville sextet brewed up the courage to get more serious, introspective and, sometimes, quiet. “The Sound of My Ceiling Fan” represents all that is good about the new and improved Planet—a song about loneliness and lacking direction that subtly features the band’s four-guitar intricacies. In the end, somehow lines like “Spending days watching the growth of your waste” even sound like a good time.
“THEY ALL WANT YOU”
LISSIE, BACK TO FOREVER
Rock-wailing Lissie and her standout track from her stellar album is, I think, about falling for bad boys/alcoholics. Lissie’s at the bar observing her man doing his inebriated thing to the leeches he calls friends. Maybe they don’t see the problem, but Lissie sure does, and she’s warned you... and she’s watching you, and she’s sad and she sings about it, and it is heart crushingly kinds of amazing.
“THIS IS MAGIC”
MAJICAL CLOUDZ, IMPERSONATOR
“This Is Magic” represents everything that makes Majical Cloudz’s breakout album Impersonator so powerful (and able to overcome their crappy name): an unsettling scene juxtaposing innocence and terror, brought to life by Devon Welsh’s minimalist lyrics and dense baritone. “I feel like a kid / I see some monster standing over my crib,” he sings at the outset instantly adding tension to the sparse tones provided by bandmate Matthew Otto. It’s the kind of electronic music that’ll end a party early, but that’s OK—Majical Cloudz are better suited for individual listening. (Make sure to have tissues handy if you’re an easy crier.)
“TOO MUCH” (FEAT. SAMPHA)
DRAKE, NOTHING WAS THE SAME
(OVO Sound/Young Money/Cash Money/Republic)
It’s likely that I rode harder for Drake in 2013 than any music writer has ridden for any musician ever. Now, it is the end of 2013, and I’m burned out on the little motherfucker. I spent so much time damn near living inside the music of the Human Croissant that I realized there was nothing there, only empty bluster, vaguely above-average wordplay, and beguiling charm, hard-won from years put in the Canadian network TV teen-soap farm system. Still, there’s one song that endures. Tucked near the end of the clinically perfect Nothing Was the Same, “Too Much” finds Drake airing out his family’s dirty laundry as well as his own insecurities, anchored by Sampha’s hook. For most of Drake’s career, he’s moved his mouth and you’ve heard the words, and once you fully process them, you’re like, “What the fuck that was stupid.” But this is different; it’s more real, an emotional gutpunch. It’s proof that when you look into Drake’s robotic, soulless eyes, there just might be a glint of something human.
DAFT PUNK, RANDOM ACCESS MEMORIES
At eight minutes long with multiple sonic digressions, “Touch” isn’t nearly as radio-friendly as “Get Lucky” or “Lose Yourself to Dance,” but it’s literally and figuratively the centerpiece of Random Access Memories. Featuring vocals by ’70s phenom Paul Williams, whose resume reads like a Ron Burgundy sketch (dude wrote “Rainbow Connection” for the Muppets and played an orangutan in Planet of the Apes), its titular topic concerns the importance of the human touch, a.k.a. the artistic goal of RAM: to venture into the uncanny valley and find the line between man and machine, real and artificial, then do the Hustle down it.
“UGH” (FEAT. TY$ & PROBLEM)
BERNER, DRUGSTORE COWBOY
Berner doesn’t really have much of a reason to exist: He’s an also-also-also ran in the perennially fruitful Bay rap scene, more famous for his alleged drug connections and joint albums with Tha Jacka than his solo projects, rapping such minimal effort that it’s borderline insulting—and this is the post-Lil B era, where rapping with minimal effort is an entire goddamn aesthetic. What Berner does have going for him, however, is he’s friends with Wiz Khalifa, and this gives him access to the best beats and collaborators money can buy. So, then, you end up with songs like “Ugh,” with its appropriately generic name, tucked into Berner’s way-better-than-it-has-any-right-to-be mixtape, Drugstore Cowboy. Make no bones about it, this is actually TY$ and Problem’s song as they ride a blessing of a DJ Mustard of a beat. This song makes me want to jump around in circles and punch strangers and then make out with them.
ATOMS FOR PEACE, AMOK
Joey Waronker’s crisp percussion on the track “Unless” was generally regarded as his strongest contribution to Atoms for Peace’s debut album, Amok. But for me, it’s the repetition of the synthesizer’s minor key progression and the way it builds and builds that truly causes the track to stand out. Feeling as though you’re constantly on the precipice of a break that never truly occurs, the juxtaposition with Thom Yorke’s subdued vocals and the aforementioned percussion creates a rich sonic playground your mind and ears will want to revisit time and time again.
UNA BÈSTIA INCONTROLABLE, OBSERVANT COM EL MÓN ES DESTRUEIX
(La Vida Es En Mus)
Catalan’s noisy hardcore outfit Una Bèstia Incontrolable hail from Barcelona, and their introduction to the U.S. via a whirlwind tour this summer resulted in more than a few pit injuries. “Vulnerable” is mostly mid-tempo crush with a furious, noisy breakdown that'll have you looking for the nearest speaker stack to hurl yourself against.
CHVRCHES, THE BONES OF WHAT YOU BELIEVE
Singer Lauren Mayberry has the cutest voice ever, and then she takes you by surprise by dropping an F-bomb—in a scary/adorable way. The Scottish synthpop trio’s debut has been a much-needed new wave fix for my constant ’80s nostalgia, and “We Sink” comes complete with sweet arpeggio.
“WHAT WE DONE?”
This past summer in upstate New York, I got it in my head to do a sexy naked dance for my boyfriend (it was our anniversary and we were both fairly intoxicated). He passed out right at the beginning, but I was vibing so hard on Austra that I kept going. I danced through all of Feel It Break, then called my friends to tell them how much I loved them before moving onto the recently released Olympia, which I hadn’t listened to yet. When I heard the opening salvo of “So I dance with nothing / So I dance for free,” it was like Katie Stelmanis knew literally everything about me. I also like the way the lyrics call back to Feel It Break, specifically: the idea that lesbian sex can grant you psychic powers if you do it right. Maybe it can.
“WHAT YA USED TO” (FEAT. HIT-BOY)
ROCKIE FRESH, MMG’S SELF MADE VOL. 3
(Maybach Music Group/Atlantic)
Everyone’s so nostalgic for the ’90s, but no one used the Ouija board correctly until Rockie Fresh dug up vintage Ma$e and G-Unit. And he still made it sound futuristic! Skill level: advanced.
“WHEN A FIRE STARTS TO BURN”
I was a few months late to the Disclosure party. Luckily, the (actual) bros from England, Guy and Howard Lawrence, make the kind of house music that pops up in places besides dark warehouses where people have been dabbing their fingers in Molly or snorting special k all night. It’s melodic, accessible—and still respectable. This track is ridiculous, sparse and taut underneath that sampled snatch of Eric Thomas’ sermon before blossoming into that heady space that makes your body tingle. And then, after stretching the song like a rubber band, they snap it back at just the right moment. So satisfying.
“WHITE TEETH TEENS”
LORDE, PURE HEROINE
Sweet Lorde! Pure Heroine is warm flames all the way through, but I especially love this one. I think it’s an allusion to her growing fame—I’m not sure. There aren’t very many notes on my dashboard, so I guess I wouldn’t know too much about that.
“WOWZERS” (FEAT. TRINA)
LIL WAYNE, I AM NOT A HUMAN BEING II
(Young Money/Cash Money/Republic)
People wrote off Lil Wayne’s album before it even dropped, which is fine, but then you probably missed him teaming up with his ex, Trina, on “Wowzers.” The song is pure filth. Now that Wayne’s getting better and better at skating, it’s fine that he uses bro-language like, “Wowzers” and “Skello” but don’t let that get in the way of Weezy’s use of onomatopoeias to describe the sounds of sex. It’s more entertaining than a rapper rapping about every other rapper. And Soulja Boy produced it. Sounds perfect to me.
SO SO GLOS, BLOWOUT
Containing some of 2013’s most onomatopoeic punk riffs, “Wrecking Ball” may not be as definitive a So So Glos anthem as Blowout opener “Son Of An American” (or, y’know, anything like 2013’s other “Wrecking Ball”), but it’s further surefire proof the New Yawk DIY heroes know how to navigate the tricky terrain of hyper self-conscious 20-something anxiety in the new millennium. Fair ain’t always fair, birthrights are bunk and don’t expect shit because more often than not the world’s gonna treat you like chewed gum stuck to a boot. The only thing you can really count on in this life are the things you make for yourself and your community, and nothing brings the kids together like scuzzbucket guitars that yo-yo over drums that hurtle beneath proclamations of self that are most fun to howl along with others.
JOANNA GRUESOME, WEIRD SISTER
Most of the time, Cardiff-based Joanna Gruesome front-woman Alanna McArdle’s voice has to compete with roaring, noisy guitars. “Wussy Void” lets McArdle’s melodic voice take the spotlight as she coos angsty lyrics on teenage love. The five-piece act, a recent CMJ breakout, meshes ’90s shoegaze with hard-hitting punk rock. Even on their softest tunes. This track ends on a driving, thrash-y outro.
OMAR SOULEYMAN, WENU WENU
Setting aside all the issues of cultural weirdness and otherness and whatnot that come with Souleyman being the west’s favorite Syrian singer as opposed to, say, Wafik Habib, I’ll just say that I was at a bar the other night and saw a room full of completely insane girls, Brian Chase and James Murphy absolutely losing their shit to this. Yeah, he might not be Syria’s “best” singer, but I’ve always preferred Beyoncé to Mariah.
“YOU’LL NEVER KNOW”
ARIANA GRANDE, YOURS TRULY
Almost every track off of Ariana Grande’s debut could be a single, but this way underrated jam basically begs to be played at max volume—and on a loop. Apparently this was supposed to be a sass collab with Demi Lovato, but Ariana pulls it off alone better than anybody else could. Partnered up with The Rascals, she throws some serious shade at a dude who didn’t get at her when he should have all while allowing some serious ’90s nostalgia for the people who weren’t old enough to remember it the first time around.
SLEIGH BELLS, BITTER RIVALS
(Mom + Pop)
I’ve had this stuck on the brain since Derek played me the rough. Great riff, catchy melody. I like the creative politicking too. For two albums, the band’s stock-in-trade was “loudness”—crushed beats, pumping guitars, devil-may-care redlining, sweetness as punishment. Here? The main riff starts on acoustic guitar, trades up to marimba, and codas as a one-hand piano ditty. The mood of the song shifts like three or four times, and it all works. The marimba in particular, I don’t know how they pulled that off. Remember when Kanye sang for like a whole record? Same deal. This is what a breakthrough sounds like.
FOOTPRINTZ, ESCAPE YOURSELF
The now defunct duo Footprintz’s Escape Yourself is an ode to Soft Cell, synth pop and all things new wave, with “Zanzibar” standing out as my personal favorite. Everything about this track screams teen angst, from Adam Hunter’s Dave Gahan-esque vocals to the campy lyrics (“As every mountain turns to sand / And every life and everyone, all alone, all is one”). In a year where more than a few over-the-hill new wave acts put out a string of relatively forgettable albums, “Zanzibar” is a breath of fresh air in a genre that’s now in its 30s.
Listen to a mix of some of our favorite deep cuts here.
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