Sung-Min Kim’s Top 20 Albums of 2013
Sung-Min hosts Nightmusic Radio on WMUC FM every Wednesday Night / Thursday morning from midnight to 2 AM.
20. Doldrums - Lesser Evil
The best thing they did besides releasing their first full-length LP is opening for Sleigh Bells on their fall tour. I feel like this album is similar to Grimes’s Visions in that Doldrums composed catchy pop songs from unlikely materials - a lot of sound experimentation going on here. Just listen to “She Is The Wave” - it’ll take awhile to get used to the noise that’s going on, but your brain will somehow (eventually) sum the noise up as coherent parts of a pop song.
19. Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience (Part I)
Part II did not even come close to this and to be fair, Part I did kinda set the bar quite high. “Suit & Tie” and “Mirrors” are justifiably two of the best radio singles of 2013.
18. Ryan Hemsworth - Still Awake/Guilt Trips
His production became “cleaner” in style - smoother synth sounds that blend very well together. I will miss the lo-fi remixes of good hip-hop songs he did, though.
17. Charli XCX - True Romance
Better than Sky Ferreira.
16. Vanilla - For What It’s Worth
Probably the most obscure release on this list, this is a compilation of really smooth and addictive R&B beats.
15. A$AP Rocky - Long.Live.A$AP
Life in 2013: drinking an overpriced rum & coke in your trashy college town bar while the DJ plays “Fuckin’ Problems” in between two dance jams that I had not heard since freshman year.
14. The Knife - Shaking The Habitual
Perfect album to listen to if you are not having a good day and have 100 minutes to burn. The song “Full of Fire“‘s progression could drive a person mad.
13. Braids - Flourish // Perish
Raphaelle Standell-Preston is involved in two bands that each released an album this year. This is not the one that I thought I’d like better.
12. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
Compared to the other two Vamp. Weekend albums, this is a grower. But once it grew on me, I think I listened to it much more than their other work.
11. My Bloody Valentine - M B V
21 years of waiting and we got what we should’ve expected. It’s not Loveless (there are one or two throwaway tracks that made me scratch my head) but the production is outstanding - there’s definitely their trademark shoegaze rough/fuzzy guitar noise but compared to Loveless, it seemed like they softened it in the overall mix. It’s definitely a My Bloody Valentine album but (somewhat) softer.
10. The Blow - The Blow
Stealing Mikey Lawrence’s words: “existential love songs”.
9. Disclosure - Settle
Every time this album comes up in conversation, I wonder, “How is it that I’ve been liking this album as much as I have? The entire thing is basically a set of formulaic beat-driven dance songs.” But they’re really good beat-driven dance songs.
8. Baths - Obsidian
Cerulean had this bright, crispy and sparkling tone - Wiesenfield came back with a darker, more sentimental one this year. It’s also more of a singer-songwriter work than what seemed like a beats collection on the previous work. “Earth Death” goes quite hard and soft at the same time - I love those two big contrasts.
7. Mutual Benefit - Love’s Crushing Diamond
The progression of the first three tracks on this album is so beautiful that sometimes I just don’t even notice that it’s going to the next track.
6. M.I.A. - Matangi
This one was tricky to place. Its best songs (“Bad Girls”, “Double Bubble Trouble”, “Come Walk With Me”, “Matangi”, “y.a.l.a.”) tell me that it’s easily top-5 material but there are a few clunkers that gave me some hesitation - it barely missed being that high but it’s still a great album. She may be in her late-30’s but M.I.A. maintains the tenacity of young rebellious pop singers - she perhaps outdoes most of them actually.
5. Jai Paul - Self-Titled/Demos
Only two tracks released since this project surfaced on the interwebs… and those are two damn good songs. The lack of information surrounding Jai Paul and the mysteriousness that follows from it make him a very irresistible figure. “Str8 Outta Mumbai” (also listed as “track 2”) is song-of-the-year material - the indian drum sample that enters at 0:11 is so sudden and powerful that it just felt earth-shattering on the first listen. And then there are a few random samples inserted in random parts of the song (including that unforgettable hindi singing sample towards the end) and a few Jai-Paul trademark random pauses and glitches… all of them prompt me to think “PLAY THAT PART AGAIN” and have very high repeatability. Jai Paul’s usage of random pauses, samples, glitches, weird sound effects seem spontaneous yet calculated, which is what makes Jai Paul himself… not to mention that, in terms of songwriting, the structures on most of his songs are formulaic, simple yet you don’t get tired of listening over and over.
4. Autre Ne Veut - Anxiety
We all have had times when we wanted sympathy from someone else all the time. When I went through stuff like that in 2013, Arthur Ashin’s new album was always there for me. This album does not feature the most polished production that music can bring, but the songwriting and the emotion that Autre Ne Veut brings is just tremendous. He sounds genuine and the sounds on the album really do offer something new to listeners - a lot of them sound unconventional compared to most other R&B products but they are constructed so coherently that they eventually make sense - and have people listen over and over because, at least to me, no matter how many times I listen, it sounds different than others. Also, Ashin’s cries in songs like “Play By Play”, “Counting”, “Gonna Die”, etc. amplified my down emotions in a way that was… kind of triumphant.
3. Kanye West - Yeezus
I wrote a review on this when it came out:
Another thing that this album did well (indirectly) was give exposure to some of the really talented beatmakers out there. For me, most notably, Evian Christ, Gesaffelstein and Arca.
2. James Blake - Overgrown
Kanye recently said in a radio interview in Philly that James Blake is his favorite artist right now - that’s a hefty compliment if I ever heard one and y’know, I don’t disagree with him. Overgrown was a growth in the songwriting part of Blake’s overall expertise. The entire album blends together well in that its themes center around a person in love, features similar instrumentation throughout (piano, beats, some strings, and trademark experimental synths) and has a very warm R&B vibe all around. My favorite thing about the songs from this album is that they are extremely catchy and most songs develop tensions gradually yet convincingly, which is why even though tracks are slow-tempo, I find none of them boring, at all. James Blake was already a brilliant producer - through this album, he’s becoming more of a complete package while not losing his experimental edge.
1. Danny Brown - Old
I accidentally discovered Danny Brown - I got into a pit for his set at Pitchfork Music Festival in 2012 only because I wanted to be close to the stage for Grimes, who played after him. It was a rough pit but became a blessing in disguise. I started to listen XXX and The Hybrid regularly after the festival and when “Kush Coma” was released as a sneak peek of the upcoming album, I was pretty excited - the production was just wonderful and Danny Brown’s flow and speed were just as good as ever. Turns out that, once I got the album, it’s not even my top 10 favorite of the album. Production-wise, there are a lot of good choices here - there’s a track that Purity Ring is heavily involved in (“25 Bucks”) and that’s just the start. Rustie produced two of the biggest bangers I’ve heard this year on this album (“Dope Song”, “Break It (Go)”) and SKYWLKR (better known as “that white guy dj’ing during Danny Brown’s set”), who has a metal background and a knack for speedy tempos, also shined, most notably with one of my favorite tracks of the year “Dip”. There are only a very few letdowns in this album - one of which I can think off the top of my head is that charli xcx didn’t do much on the track in which she was featured (provided faint backup vocals on the last track of the album) but most of them are just me being nitpicky. We also get to look at different facets of his personality - SKYWLKR described Danny Brown as having two different sides - extremely turnt-up and outgoing and very down and quiet. both are shown in Old - the first side portrayed the somewhat somber and serious side of Danny, opening up to his listeners about his troubled past growing up in Detroit. The second side talks about his fondness for drugs and sex. So yes, this album: being multi-faceted, top-notch productions that connect hip-hop with EDM (what’s very popular out there), and his clever lyricism and fast flow, takes no. 1 for me for this year.