What, did you think we weren’t going to bite on a sweet end-of-the-year award list? That’s practically mandatory for blogs. If the music you liked this year is a test, this is the part where blogs pass out the answer keys and you see what you got right. We’re trying to do things a little bit differently here at your local mox & pop, with less focus on arbitrarily and meticulously ranking completely dozens of unrelated albums and more focus on just talking about what we really want people to listen to. I think that’s a fine goal. Please enjoy, in 3 parts, The Definitive Very Important Best Of 2013 List.
BEST MIXTAPE BY AN ARTIST WITH AN OVERTLY STRAIGHTFORWARD TITLE
Acid Rap – Chance The Rapper
A prodigy of hip-hop if there ever was one, Chance The Rapper’s devil may care attitude and lyrical absurdity make it no surprise it’s one of the most positively reviewed underground efforts of the year. Chance doesn’t provide a boring or underwhelming moment – listening to his unfolding lyrical catharsis is wildly entertaining. With appearances from Childish Gambino (another rapper for those confused) and up and comer Noname Gypsy (Again, sans title the name alone might throw one off) Acid Rap’s humbled intentions are done further justice. The 20-year-old spits better than the majority of rappers today, with an undertone of intellectually barbed nettles. Manic self-efficacy paired with self-deprecation isn’t often hand in glove, but perhaps it ought to be. – Jake Tully
Trouble Will Find Me – The National
The album that I listened to the most in 2013 is The National’s Trouble Will Find Me. There’s a bit of critical backlash that The National is a vanilla band: they’re fashionably slick, they write about general social melancholy, and they sound comfortable being middle of the road. While these things may be true, I can’t ignore that they’re really, really good at it. The National has long represented an upper class melancholy or a mainstream depression. This was on display on Matt Berninger’s endearingly awkward Colbert Report interview where, when pressed to describe what sort of problems he sings about, Berninger could only stammer, “Normal human troubles.”
We’re almost self-conscious about how easy the melancholy comes for The National. A song like “Don’t Swallow The Cap” is universal because of it muses on a very general outsider blues. It’s also briskly paced, packed with musical momentum, and designed to stick in your head. There’s nothing exotic about feeling isolated at a party of young people, or wondering about old flames. But we need bands like The National to remind us why these popular experiences are popular in the first place, and why we ever feel like these social ills can be so back breaking.
My favorite song, “Pink Rabbits,” is a constantly shifting master work that works in and around ex-lover nostalgia. The line that sticks with me is, “I love a storm but I don’t love lightning,” one of the many self-aware moments that try to grapple with inexplicable constant sorrow. I don’t think The National or their fans should have to explain any of that. They take everyday demons and accurately describe the way they can sink in our spine, and sometimes that’s all we want to feel. – Justin Pansacola
BEST USE OF BRASS MUTES TO IMITATE KAIJU
Wagner Reloaded – Apocalyptica
The classical cellists of Apocalyptica do their mightiest metal in this live album to give you a range of icky feelings that ‘Tis the Season pressures you to deny. Anger, pain, and betrayal! Resentment, greed, and annihilation inspired by the ambitious, late Wagner! How demanding was this genius asshole? Current opera critics have mocked reputable opera companies who have tripped over 45 ton mechanized prop pieces required for the full 15 hour quad-opera that makes up The Ring. Stout vocalists have become ill and dropped noticeable dress sizes from the physical stamina required of this multi-cycle tale about the Norse gods.
You could focus on the band’s homage to this over-the-top personality and cruel visionary that shunned latkes. However, it is way more fun to create a holiday drinking game for every muted trombone or muted tuba that reminds you of aggressive alien monsters erupting from the sea! “Signal”, “Creation of Notes” and “Fight Against Monsters” are three tracks that are likely to make you feel like marshaling giant piloted robots from the movie Pacific Rim to fight the 14” and 18” Oceanside Oarfish that have washed up on SoCal twice this year. If you balk at comparing oarfish to intergalactic bullies such as kaiju, chill with a track of “Stormy Wagner” with its Middle Eastern beat and synth woodwinds. This is a flytrap for “We Swarm” Glitch Mob Beats Antique Remix fans like myself. – Renee Marchol
Doris – Earl Sweatshirt
At only 19 years old, original Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt produces a deep dark expression of a young kid who is far beyond his time. He triumphs as the one to look out for, and has surpassed many of this fellow rap artists by showing he can write lyrics with such strong content, you might never assume he’s adolescent age. His music is authentic; Sweatshirt will make you feel his emotions through each and every track on this album. Doris is one of those albums that you listen to loud, over and over again.
Doris is expressive; it’s raw and rough around the edges. Sweatshirt has a rapping style that feels natural. His wordplay is effortless, and it’s evident in his music. You can tell that Sweatshirt has a very adult lyrical style. His music insists maturity and a level of rap music that has seemingly disappeared through mainstream music. Sweatshirt takes it back to the simple dirty rap music that is incredibly rare these days, and his execution is flawless. It might take a couple listens to understand what he’s saying, but it’s nonetheless entertaining. Sweatshirt is a wordsmith or sorts and Doris was praised by critics everywhere, including a debut at number five on the Billboard 200. – Arati Patel
m b v – My Bloody Valentine
I will admit to eating up the hype for m b v, My Bloody Valentine’s follow-up to Loveless nearly 20 years later. It’s hard not to ride the excitement train for something that’s been incoming for so long that it’s a canonized running joke. It was getting to a point that other than being pioneers of shoegaze, My Bloody Valentine was the band that would never finish their album. None of that matters now. m b v came out. It wasn’t a new revolution, but you couldn’t listen to this album and think Kevin Shields was a shell. The buzz & fog of their brand of shoegaze often implores you to sink into the soundscape, one of those albums that people call an “experience” but here it’s the only way to accurately describe it. And yeah, why shouldn’t the historical significance & anticipation be part of the experience? – Justin Pansacola
No Blues – Los Campesinos!
This album in my mind makes them 5 for 5. Just hopping over the sophomore slump is a feat in and of itself, but to keep this combo going deserves a medal. It’s even more amazing when you think about the band members who have left over the years and the instruments and backup vocals they’ve just had to drop entirely because of it. Couple that in with maturation and life changes and it’s a wonder they can still cut through to your twee bones (while flipping you off.) They’ve never had such pop punk mastery as in “Avocodo, Baby” and “What Death Leaves Behind,” and they always manage to top their earnest, unself conscious honesty with each subsequent album. It’s encouraging to know that LC! is still finding peaks. – Justin Pansacola
Sail Out – Jhene Aiko
R&B was kept alive this year with a number of amazing albums, but there was one EP that stood out more than others. The LA native Jhene Aiko gave us Sail Out, her first official Itunes release. The mixtape, comprised of 8 tracks, showcased Aiko’s incredibly smooth vocals alongside lyrics of romance, drugs, sex and heartbreak.
Aiko showed up earlier this year on Drake’s NWTS track “From Time” and has previously been featured on tracks with Kendrick Lamar as well as Childish Gambino and Big Sean. As her own personal release, sail out showed us that is Jhene Aiko is not just another heard-of artist, I have no doubt that she will soon be a household name. She single handedly kept the female R&B alive this year, and ‘Sail Out’ was just an inkling of what’s to come from this vocal powerhouse. – Arati Patel