2013 is over, and the lists are out and about causing havoc among people who hate Kanye West. Yes, Yeezus was the most-honored album of 2013 on top 10 lists, which was surprising to me. West’s terribly-named (or perfectly, I can’t decide) album was obviously critically adored when it came out- though the majority of my non-critic friends hated it. But I hardly expected it to be the #1 record for so many critics. But it is, and here we are. That was 2013.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of 2013 albums that didn’t receive a ton of love. The following 5 albums are records that I think deserve more attention. Just because they’re on this list doesn’t mean they will make my Best Albums list when I make one someday in 2014. It also doesn’t mean they won’t, and it certainly doesn’t mean they don’t stack up next to the likes of Yeezus or Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City or Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. In fact, in my estimation, some of these records are (*gasp*) BETTER than those records- talk about blasphemy! Anyway, in each title I linked to wherever that album is streaming. Enjoy!
Dawn Richard, Goldenheart: Alt-R&B has slowly stolen my heart from folk music. I probably listen to more Americana music than any other genre, but alt-R&B tends to lift me to higher highs than anything with a twang. Dawn Richard’s debut album was this year’s channel ORANGE, except that no one noticed. In a just world, 2013 would have been Dawn Richard’s coming-out party. Instead, she’ll have to settle for mini-accolades from a little-read blogger in Oklahoma. You’ll always have me, Dawn. Favorite Song: “Break of Dawn”
Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience: JT can hardly be characterized as alt-R&B, but he certainly tried in 2013. Unfortunately, instead of embracing his masterful ear for melody, critics rushed to call The 20/20 Experience overblown and overlong. It wasn’t helped by the disaster that was Part 2. But repeat listens have only confirmed what I thought the first time through: The 20/20 Experience is a masterpiece of retro R&B vibes and emotionally honest lyrics. Favorite Song: “Mirrors”
KaiL Baxley, Heatstroke / The Wind and the War: I recommended Baxley’s double-EP debut to my friend Scott Bedgood before the end of the year, and he subsequently added it to his Top 10 Albums list. That’s more a testament to the strength of Baxley’s music than to my musical taste, since Scott and I don’t agree on a ton when it comes to what we put on our iPods. KaiL Baxley is more than any one genre; he’s best described as singer-songwriter, though that paints a much weaker picture of him than the reality. Baxley tells full stories in his song, imbuing his lyrics with longing for lost passion and dreams. He balances sensitivity with directness, giving his often dreamlike tunes a solid foundation. Favorite Song: “HeatStroke”
Sandra McCracken, Desire Like Dynamite: Christian music predictably never appears on mainstream top 10 lists, but even Christian outlets sidestepped Sandra McCracken’s great Desire Like Dynamite. Maybe they simply forgot, since it was released all the way back in February. But that’s hard to excuse, since McCracken and husband Derek Webb are two of the most prolific and influential artists in the Christian music scene. More likely, everyone just totally missed the target on this one, mistaking McCracken’s low-key vibe for a lack of substance. In reality, this thoughtfully produced collection of folk music was one of the few creative endeavors in 2013 that consistently pointed me to my hope in God’s will for the world. Favorite Song: “Hourglass”
W.L.A.K., W.L.A.K.: If “underrated” and “overlooked” are the key adjectives in this post, then W.L.A.K. are this post’s MVPs. W.L.A.K. consists of Alex Faith, Christon Gray, Dre Murray, and Swoope, rappers that have perennially assisted the more well-known artists of Reach Records on several of their most potent tracks. But on their self-titled debut, W.L.A.K. surpass their more famous counterparts in both audacity and humility. The success of their collaboration is built fully on the power of their teamwork and on their ultimate desire to center their music on God’s glory. Favorite Song: “Long Way Down”
*All of my friends are non-critics. I am a non-critic.