22 smart listeners talk about the 2013 songs they won't forget
Though we at FADER don't empirically rank our favorite releases, the year-end battle between album heavyweights rages in our brains like everyone else’s. We’re talkers, prone to changing our minds, more interested in charting seismic shifts than picking who wins and loses. With that curious spirit in mind, we asked a handful of cool, smart and informed listeners—some from inside the music industry, some not—to tell us about their favorite piece of music from 2013. Some followed that prompt strictly, others did not; more than a few of them liked Chance The Rapper and Sevyn Streeter. We leave it to you to decide what to listen to.
Usher, "ABC Song"
It feels silly, but no other music video gave me more life than the two minutes of Usher Raymond IV singing his heart out in the company of muppets with nothing more than a soul clap in the background. His voice sounds utterly spectacular, an Usher you can forget exists after being inundated with years of "O.M.G." and "DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love" at horrible bars throughout the country. The way he floats over L, lift your leg and shake it everywhere, T, turn around 'cause we're not done yet, and, of course, Z, zoom around 'cause zoom is the best takes you back a decade in the nostalgic R&B Usher discography. And the ease at which he pulls it all off is really what pulls it all together. It's nice to see celebrities enter the Sesame Street world in the name of publicity and childhood literacy, but that Usher’s journey resulted in an unexpected jam really was a treat.
Human artists who either made me feel things or made things that made me feel things in 2013: Allen Iverson, Amanda Bynes, Autechre, Barbara Kruger, Chance The Rapper, Earl Sweatshirt, Ehab Asal, Future, James Baxter, Kacey Musgraves, Kanye West, Labanna Babalon, Lil B The Based God, Lil Durk, Lil Wayne, Lou Reed, Magic Mike, Mike WiLL Made It, Natsuki8000, PFFR, Raed Melki, Rashad Becker, Roxanne Mangal, Semi, Shy Glizzy, Sirr Tmo, Sister Act, Skateboard Skooly, Skrillex, Starlito, Steve Arrington, The Knife, Trent Reznor, Young Thug, Yoshi Wada.
Dirt Nasty f. Beardo, "Black Girls"
Man, this is kind of hard. I thought Juicy J’s Stay Trippy was phenomenal, kind of like his Thriller, and A$AP Ferg’s Trap Lord was a beast of an album. But I’m a man more drawn to the irreverent and irredeemable than the polished and triumphant. So I’d have to say that my 2013 pick is Simon Rex aka Dirt Nasty’s album Palatial, which is an ignorant masterpiece, with the track "Black Girls" being my favorite of the album. It has Simon and his friend Beardo—who sounds like the rap lovechild of a young Dustin Diamond and McLovin, whatever the hell that actor’s name is—rapping about why they, two white blokes, prefer black girls over white girls, in a line-for-line, back-and-forth rhyme scheme you don’t really hear on rap songs anymore. Song structure aside, "Black Girls" is just funny as fuck; the song plumbs the depths of America’s racial binary with lines such as Black girls got all the curves/ White girls look like birds or Black girls, are the best/ White girls are always depressed and the ever-truthful Black girls drive Mercedes/ White bitches give you rabies. I mean, yeah, it’s stupid, but I measure quality through laughter, and this shit wins for me.
Chance The Rapper, Acid Rap
One of my favorite pieces of music of any stripe this year was Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap. It came along at a time in my life when I'd just lost someone dear to me and would go on to lose a few more, and it's basically a record all about perseverance in similarly dire situations. Chance's tour of Chicago's South Side is charged with the inevitability of death, but it's also a love letter to the city in spite of itself, and that's where it gets me. There's death and violence in every big city. There's sadness and loss. But there's moms, grandmas, friends and girlfriends, too. Acid Rap is all about finding and cherishing love wherever you encounter it, about the quiet comforts of companionship and camaraderie. It's a message I needed a lot this year, and I found myself returning to it more than anything else that came out.
Miley Cyrus, "We Can't Stop" (Prod. by Mike WiLL Made It)
Since leaving college, my drinking has gotten much less concentrated: I drink a beer or two almost every night, but I only got really drunk a handful of times this year. By far the drunkest I got was in August, when I went to visit a few of my very best friends from school where they now live in D.C. On Friday night, we ended up at a party in a small art gallery in Columbia Heights that was selling bottles of beer straight from the package behind a makeshift bar. There was a DJ spinning shit like “Hey Ma” and "My Love," but also at one point he played Sixpence None the Richer. He ended—not too long after I was told I couldn’t jump on a chair during “You Belong With Me”—with Miley's “We Can’t Stop,” the 20 or so of us left standing in a circle shouting lyrics that by that point in the year most everyone knew. The song has a tinge of intoxicated sadness if you want to hear it that way, but it’s also proudly defiant, a “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” for the Snapchat era. That night I heard it both ways—an elegy for days I won’t get back with friends I rarely see, but also a rallying cry for aging ungracefully. In the morning, I threw up.
Drake f. Majid Jordan, "Hold On, We're Going Home"
My boyfriend and I both love to dance, but to very different music. For him: techno and deep house that mostly all sounds the same to me. For me: pop music from 2003 and Big Sean’s “Guap.” But every year we align on a few big songs (“Dance [A$$],” “We Found Love,” “Thinkin’ Bout You”) that help me mark the flow of our relationship. This year it was “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” a song that I’m not sure he even heard until he came home to me playing it really loudly one Saturday night in September. He walked into our computer room and we started dancing slowly, first as a joke but then for real, to a song that I think is kinda stupid but that nonetheless will sweep you up in its hot love and emotion if you let it.
Hot Sugar f. The GTW, "Erica"
Romance annoys me. I've sacrificed pretty much every romantic aspect of my personality to my own music (which isn't even that romantic and probably says a lot about my emotional maturity) and I can't think of a single Drake lyric that resonates for me. However, "Erica" is the first song in years that has actually caused me physical heartache and continues to do so even after all 817 times I've listened to it. (It's possible I've listened to it more than 817 times—that's just the number on my iTunes chart.)
I'm not sure if I was lucky or unlucky to be present for the entire creation of this song. While it is awe-inspiring to watch Hot Sugar make music, his brilliance often reminds me of my own lack of talent and I envy his ability to transform annoying everyday sounds into instruments the same way I envied my friend Seaira's Barbie collection in elementary school. I remember the first time I heard the piano riff that would later become "Erica." I was laying in bed, drawing, and the melody was so beautifully haunting that I crept cautiously into the room Nick (Hot Sugar) used as a studio to ask if he was upset about something. I was living with him then, so I had to listen to that damn melody repeatedly for days while he made the single piano line into a full-on beat. A few weeks later he played me the song with a rough mix of The GTW's vocals over it. Though at that point I didn't pay much attention to the lyrics, I was overcome by the combination of the creepy- emotional beat and the singer's painfully resigned tone. It took a while for me to absorb the words, but when they sank in I was again floored by the impossible reality The GTW was able to convey with the mundane details of living with someone you once loved but can't even deal with anymore. At first, I was worried that Nick was trying to tell me something, but he wasn't. Actually, I'm like 90% sure The GTW wrote the song about someone from some reality TV show.
My personal attachment to "Erica" has since faded and it's intensity is diluted by the lack of emotion the rest of the songs it was released with (on Hot Sugar's Made Men EP). Nevertheless, for me it is undoubtedly the best song of the year. I long for another song to cry to that hurts like "Erica" does.
French Montana, Pardon My French
Before the KanyeToThe minions flurry this way and DDoS the FADER servers, let me say this is a firmly-held belief that Pardon My French was the most enjoyable album of the year. And I'm not trolling-for-retweets or whatever. It's something I've told everyone: French's label president, publicist, every single buffalo my brother Dan and I passed in Yellowstone while blasting "Ain't Worried Bout Nothin'." The first five songs are perfectly crafted; a couple of growers-not-showers later, it's right back on track. It's loud and it's dumb, the Homer Simpson of records. But it's charming, it's dashing, it's rental-car-bashing, the kind of thing to play while walking down the street in slow motion. He doesn't use lyrics often, but he has an incredible ear: "When I Want" sounds like a old-timey locomotive; "Bout Nothin" feels like a madhouse merry-go-round, like a butcher, baker and candlestick maker were all brought in to finish "Marble Floors." At Hot 97's Summer Jam, stacked against the hottest in the industry in front of 50,000 people, he outperformed everyone but Meek Mill. (This includes A$AP, Kendrick, others.) Maybe it's a New York thing; maybe he's not destined to spread beyond the Hudson. French's Summer Jam performance was cut short by thunder, which means Yeezus still has the power.
From the first words out of SZA's mouth on "Aftermath"—I apologize for waiting to tell you for so long that I am not human—I realized this girl was a different entity altogether, and I couldn't get enough. The rest of the lyrics don't manage to make any more sense, but by the chorus, the song comes together in a beautiful, whispery way. And its not just this song, SZA's whole S EP is just as appealing and addictive. I listened to it front to back almost as much as Yeezus, which is saying something real. SZA has all the offbeat quirkiness of Janelle Monáe, the irresistible sexiness of Cassie and the polished grace of our patron saint Solange, but without seeming to try very hard to pull it all off. She writes fem-core anthems for women of a certain spirit, those who have their feet in two worlds at the same time. "Aftermath" beckons to women of a certain age—those who came up in the '90s listening to Res, Les Nubian, Biggie, Massive Attack and Talib Kweli—causing their hearts to seize up with an emphatic Yes! at the feeling of finding a kindred soul, someone who's also looking to carve out a new space while taking up residence into a worn and familiar one. With her music, SZA effortlessly exudes a calculated cool and talent, exactly the aura that we are all trying to relay through our Instagrams, Tumblrs and tweets: an otherworldly awareness and knowledge of the human experience.
Negative Supply's 11.13.13 AKA OSIRIS
2013 will go down in my personal history as the year that I noticed that I got older. Not, like, old man older, just no longer the youngest person in the room older. It was bound to happen and it's totally alright that it finally did happen. Stay in any city long enough and it'll happen to you, too. Celebrate it. Kids do awesome shit forever. Adults also do awesome shit forever (unless they are lame, but then they were probably always lame) and if they are somewhere in your age vicinity and share the same fond memories for highly specific experiences as you, they will do awesome shit that is just what you are looking for.
For me, that came from Nick Sylvester, whose GODMODE record label has been pumping out gritty releases from bands that sound like they could only work in New York. Everything he released this year (there's a lot) was good, but probably my favorite thing was the improvisational Negative Supply cassette he released.
Sylvester and Jeremy Krinsley faced each other at dingy Death By Audio, separated, Battleship style, by a wall of synthesizers and drum machines. They improvised a pounding rhythm, creating a sort of grinding bliss. Then they were done, and Sylvester rushed to the back of the venue to dub tapes of the show he'd just played.
To be honest, this was not my favorite show of the year, nor is the Negative Supply tape my favorite piece of music of the year, but it was a singular experience. The excitement of seeing something that was only happening right there, and then being able to revisit it from a personal angle. It wasn't an Instagram or a sponsored photo strip. It was an experience that, by default, probably wasn't gonna appeal to many people. I feel lucky that I've lived here long enough that it mattered a whole lot to me.
Tove Lo, "Habits"
For me, the finest moments in music that resonate are those that hit you at your most vulnerable. Just like the finest pop songs, they work—ultimately—when they're based on realness, preferably pain and hurt. Where the song acts as a cathartic exercise: the artist ridding their demons through performance. Sweden's Tove Lo did exactly this with "Habits," a song that literally pours with regret, self loathing and self destruction. Binge drinking, breaking shit, sleeping with married men, hanging out in sex clubs—it's all in there. But it's done with such lyrical panache and, more importantly, brutal honesty that, when listened to in the right frame of mind, almost acts as its own self help pamphlet.
When it comes to heartbreak in pop music, nothing came close to "Habits" in 2013. Incredible performance coupled with zesty production and a rousing, sing-along chorus: High, all the time, to keep you off my mind. It's the most vital pop song of the year and furthers Tove's ever expanding songbook as one that shouldn't be ignored.
I spent most of this year listening to really angry rap from Chicago. It may be because my 2013 was particularly chaotic that I darted between classes and work all day with “I Don’t Know Dem,” “How We Move,” and “Send It Up” on repeat in my earbuds, all trigger-finger clenched, drawn to tense, confrontational, music that sounded like cold steel and hot lava all at once. With this backdrop, my biggest prayer-hand Emoji wish for 2014 is lots and lots more beats from WondaGurl. This young lady is a fucking problem. Praises due to whatever figure guided her tracks to Travi$ Scott’s inbox, because “Uptown” and “God Level” are like a one-two punch from Wolverine in the final boss fight on Marvel vs. Capcom 2. It’s no wonder Hova snatched them both up for Magna Carta’s “Crown”—it’s the scariest he’s sounded since he toted guns to the Grammys and popped bottles on the White House lawn, despite fumbling through the first minute like, "Shit, I don’t even know what I’m about to do on this beat.” And that scream on the hook? Lord knows how a mild-mannered Nigerian girl who makes beats in between homework assignments conjures up this much menace and spreads it over that bounce, but please don’t stop doing it. Here's hoping she gets some joints to Lil Bibby.
Snarky Puppy f. Lalah Hathaway, "Something"
As a 19 year old that's a part of this new generation who live a life through the internet, I enjoy my Twitter, SoundCloud, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Of course, being an artist, I use those platforms to promote whatever I've got going on: new music, new photos and new videos, but sometimes, I wanna be the one entertained. When I first saw this YouTube video of Snarky Puppy and Lalah Hathaway, which popped up on my Facebook timeline, I was skeptical. I believe in hype sometimes but other times I get fearful of it, and it puts me off watching or listening to certain things. Example: I still haven't listened to Yeezus. Or watched Breaking Bad. But when I saw the sheer volume of people watching this video, I instinctively knew it was gonna be something special. An eight-minute jam session, it's such a joy to watch, with Lalah Hathaway riffing, ad-libbing and scatting with so much melodic knowledge and awareness of what's going on behind her: a sea of musicians just vibing, enjoying each other's company and being intertwined via the music. AND THE 6:10 MARK. Lalah Hathaway harmonizing WITH HERSELF, with perfect pitch and control. MINDBLOWING.
Ciara f. Future, "Where You Go"
After "Body Party," it's the after-party. This one kicks off in the penthouse suite with Ciara and Future in a post-coital haze, making promises at dawn before falling asleep on soft high thread count sheets dreaming of tomorrow morning's room service pancakes and orange juice. This year saw Ciara shaking off the bad promo that plagued her last two albums and putting out a classic that reestablished her as one of modern R&B's preeminent stars. "Where You Go" has a wistful tone abetted by its squiggly synth and melancholy guitar. Did co-producer Mike WiLL play the guitar part? Is there anything Mike WiLL CAN'T make? Ciara's light as a feather vocals wind dreamily around Future's plaintive wails. No man has ever taken the "tune" part of "Auto-Tune" less seriously, or to greater effect. What sounds like a love song on first listen reveals itself to be something more complicated; the sound of two people sizing each other up the morning after, trying to figure out if the sparks they felt were real or just an emergency flare sent up between two lonely people in the midst of a body party. It cuts out right when at the moment you're ready to dive all the way in. Luckily, it's the kind of song that sounds perfect on endless repeat.
Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time
I've been listening to Sky Ferreira's new album Night Time, My Time pretty much non-stop. I love how Sky samples La Düsseldorf in her first track "Boys," and apparently a lot of the pedals she used on this album were the same ones that La Düsseldorf used. I just think it's a great solid pop album that I can sing along to while I'm dancing naked trying to get dressed.
CL, "나쁜 기집애 (THE BADDEST FEMALE)"
I've been really into CL's "나쁜 기집애 (THE BADDEST FEMALE)" lately. She's a K-pop star from the popular Korean female group 2NE1. When I was a kid I was super into K-pop, then I lost all interest when I discovered 2Pac (All Eyez On Me was the first CD I ever owned) and only listened to 2Pac, but I guess I've been reconnecting with my roots recently. This song is catchy, the video is blinged-out, and CL looks sexy as hell.
2013… SUMMER OF MIGOS. Yeezus and Drake made the two albums I listened to the most. Their ongoing game of Spy vs. Spy also somewhat entertaining. Guitar music sucked across the board (again) except for Haim, Vampire Weekend and Speedy Ortiz. I would like an entire Strokes record that sounds like Julian's tune on Random Access Memories. RAM had some jams but surely no dance records. Why aren't writers featuring Salva, Gesaffelstein, DJ Snake instead? Snake's "Slow Down" and his "New Slaves" bootleg were far and away my two favorite EDMs this year. Plus on the low he was responsible for that R. Kelly and Lady Gaga collab (excuse me, PRESIDENT KELLY). Other team ups of note: Gucci and Young Thug "Extasy Pill." Busta and Q-Tip "Thank You." Kingdom and Kelela "Bank Head"—although am I somehow broken for saying the rest of that Kelela tape did not really grab me?
R&B! I liked the Sevyn Streeter song Diplo made, the Ted Smooth remix of "VSOP" with Jadakiss, and The-Dream "Michael." Flume remix of Disclosure "You & Me" was the hardest love song of the year; I'm glad I could listen to it while actually falling in love. Where was Frank Ocean hiding? No Beyoncé album this year was a bummer like no Batman movie this year. ("Bow Down" and her Mr. Vegas song that I don't believe exists outside of Hot 97 and Miss Lilys are still dope tho.) A$AP Ferg, Fergenstein, Hood Pope, Donnie McClurkin, YUNG TRAP LORD DOWN FOR HIS PEEE-PUHL. Future "Sh!t" > all other 50bpm rap music. Troy Ave and Bodega Bamz on the radio. Ghetto Heaven Vol 1. West Coast bass: HBK, Sage The Gemini, Problem, DJ Mustard, Jay305. WINTER OF BIEBER. (I can't believe it either.)
This is of course leaving out all 2013 Fool's Gold releases for the sake of conversation. Don't worry, they were all beautiful and unique snowflakes worthy of your love and attention. Especially my record!
D'Angelo and Questlove, "Tell Me If You Still Care (Live At Brooklyn Bowl)"
This was my favorite musical experience this year. Perhaps I love it even more because it needs no further commentary. It just is.
The Devil, Harbinger
Sometime in June, I received a call from a guy saved in my phone as White Boy D. We'd met once about three years prior. He used to manage Pill during the "Trap Going Ham" era, prior to the Pink City rapper's brief tenure as an MMG attache. After that, D began managing Trouble of Duct Tape Entertainment. Like 99 percent of all manager-rapper relationships, things didn't work out. I know very little about White Boy D and that hasn't changed. Some people are mysterious by design and some by necessity. He's probably a little bit of both, but it makes sense when you meet him. You will probably not meet him. I sense that he's the sort of person who has long exceeded the number of people that he cares to know.
He called me in June out of the the blue to tell me about a project that he couldn't quite explain. It was an art project, a rap album, a multi-media assault weapon, a way to attack corruption and banality. He didn't know how to describe it and I still don't. He calls himself The Devil now, but I still haven't changed his name in my phone. A few weeks later, he sent over Harbinger. It's a mixtape that he partially produced and entirely curated. It features Future, Alley Boy and 808 Mafia. It knocks hard and arrives with a couple short films. You can watch them on his website. They are terrifying and real and make you question the utility of even bothering to throw those words around. The videos are fast and cancerous blurs of violence and addiction. The music is heavy and bludgeoning. There are six parts to the project: Love, Drugs, ??????, Violence, Betrayal, Rage. It’s Bosch crossed with Bunuel and baseheads. East Atlanta as Apocalypse Now.
He has a new movie out too. He sent it to me a few weeks ago, but I haven't watched it. Not because I'm scared, but because I know that the images will become ineradicable from my memory. By the time I die, I imagine that I'll have forgotten almost everything from 2013. This memory will probably be among the last to go.
Fantasia, “Without Me,” Eminem, Future Brown, Skrillex and A$AP, “Wild for the Night,” Physical Therapy’s music video for “Do It Alone,” FKA Twigs, comedian Kate Berlant, Starred’s music video for "LA Drugs," House of LaDosha and my Halloween costume were the best of 2013.
When the parties are over and the touring stops and I take a moment to really sit down and be honest with myself, I realize my fave music of 2013 is very sweet, very loving, and a bit sad. I really loved "Catch" by Palmistry, "It Won't Stop" by Sevyn Streeter and "Freak U Down" by Ian Isiah. I listened to "Open" by The Necks more patiently than I listened to any other record; putting it on repeat in the background of my life really helped me orient myself spiritually. And I really loved Liz Harris' Grouper album, The Man Who Died In His Boat and her work with Jefre Cantu-Ledesme as Raum, which ravaged and cleansed me emotionally. These records and the friendship of my touring bandmate Aaron Read really guided me through 2013.
Perhaps the genre that benefitted the most from stellar releases this year is R&B. Leading the charge was Justin Timberlake, who not only toured with Jay Z and ignited his own worldwide musical expedition, but pulled off a feat that hasn't been achieved since DMX in 1998 by releasing two No. 1 albums within the calendar year. Quality work permeated from all corners of the rhythm and blues universe, with Aloe Blacc, Miguel, Robin Thicke, Tamar Braxton, Rico Love, K. Michelle, Sevyn Streeter, TGT, Jaheim and returning vets like R. Kelly all releasing great singles, EPs and baby-making anthems. And who can forget the run international megastar Justin Bieber had with his #MusicMondays series? Not only is the Canadian crooner continuing to reinvent the perceived sound around his music—those familiar with his maturation have seen this plunge into “traditional” R&B coming for awhile now—he’s doing so with his image as well. The same kid who created the worldwide smash “Baby” is now producing intimate material, and earning new fans in the process. R&B in 2013 flourished because of a concerted effort to return the genre to its serenading roots. If we’re lucky, it’s only the tip of the iceberg heading into the new year.
Poisonous Relationship, "Men's Feelings"
Jamie bka Poisonous Relationship is a collaborator of mine, first over the internet and later in person (he co-wrote and wrote a lot of my first record, which that came out earlier this year). I am so enamored of his music. On his website you can hear this whole array of bedroom masterpieces that he's self-released online, but Ecstasy put out his first physical release this year, and it's a totally mind-blowing explosion of everything house music thought it could ever be. His references are so cool and far-reaching, and his sense of melody and his fucking voice, man, so sweet but so sly. He really owns up to his name with some of the ways he comes for men on his tracks. When he sent me the song "Like The Devil," I felt as if I'd written it myself and knew we were kindred. "Men's Feelings" is about LA, where he visited to to write with me for my record. The takes us from this timeless set where Jamie channels R&B and soul starlettes that never were to the wilds of Sheffield. It's like how I imagine a Bergman film is supposed to be, never being able to sit through one fully myself: just so quiet and devastating. All the discreet moves—I know he is an amazing dancer but he really has so much poise and reserve here. I'm just so impressed by him always, and can't fathom why everyone everywhere doesn't know this song.
Chance The Rapper, Acid Rap
I gorged on 2 Chainz' BOATS II: Me Time every day for an entire week before I tired of it and played Ciara's "Body Party" on a constant loop before I moved on. But all year, I've continued to revisit Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap. At the very base level, it's a beautiful, nicely-arranged album that begs a listen its entirety. I can't play just one song without feeling compelled play the full 13. It's trippy, it's funky, it's spacey; a little R&B, hip-hop and jazz. It also has amazing guest spots—Twista's Higgs boson line on "Cocoa Butter Kisses" kills me every single time.
But beyond that, I connected with Acid Rap. I get it, whether I can relate situationally or not, and I want to sing along because I feel it. I empathize with what Chance is saying about his experiences with drugs, his relationship with his parents, his desire to be good and what he sees as his failure to do so. I'm certain lots of other people have connected with it just as deeply for lots of different reasons—for me, that's the real beauty of the tape. I think it's meant to give different things to different people. I know somebody loves my ass/ Because they helped me beat my demons past. I have demons too, everybody does. You either move beyond them or you succumb to them. At its core, Acid Rap summarizes that sentiment in a way that was and continues to be significant every time I listen to it.
Wavves, Afraid of Heights
Yeezus and Matangi are brilliant, important albums. But the 2013 release I'm most grateful for came from Wavves. In March, frontman Nathan Williams released an album on depression that manages not to be depressing. The self-loathing doesn’t ask for pity, the paranoia isn't paranoid, and the anxiety isn’t anxious. Afraid of Heights is 42 minutes of raucous guitar and drums and keys and even strings that admit ill health with neither accusation nor desperation to be fixed. When so many artists cravenly plead for a savior to help “battle their demons,” Williams toasts his. The resulting well-paced punk hooks are uplifting in their guiltlessness. Just as noisy and apathetic as Wavves earlier releases, but mature instead of boring. While the album is by no means masterfully crafted, Williams—along with producer John Hill—nonetheless offer satisfyingly clean, full production. Afraid of Heights is a pretty studied reproduction of ’90s alt-rock—comfort food for some, but resulted in lukewarm reviews that found the project uninspired. For the rest of us, Afraid of Heights’ nihilistic pessimism is such a tooth grinding triumph of grunge you might actually feel like getting out of bed in the morning.
Ahnnu World Music
The beat scene's been kind to us this year, giving us a new Flying Lotus album, a Knxwledge compilation for those who don't feel like digging through his staggering Bandcamp and some great output from up-and-comers like Ohbliv and vhvl. But for me, Ahnnu's the one who's stood out. Just as prolific as his contemporaries, he's put out two albums this year— one on NNA Tapes, called Battered Sphinx, and another on Leaving Records, called World Music, which was probably the record I listened to the most in 2013 (other than DJ Rashad's Double Cup). The reason I came back to it over and over was because every time I'd listen to it I'd find another detail, even though it is incredibly short. But what I liked about the cassette the most is that it felt like a breath of fresh air from all of the flashy, maximalist producers that've come to the forefront this year. World Music is elegant and understated, and knowing that only 25 of these cassettes were made in its original dubbing, I feel incredibly lucky to have discovered an album so frighteningly close to being overlooked.