Musically speaking, 2013 has been an embarrassment of riches and this summer we were treated to some brilliant albums spanning a wide breadth of genres. From big album-events such as Yeezus to the sneaky-good mixtape from Run the Jewels, it seemed like every artist was firing on all cylinders. Some brilliant albums dropped these past few months, but these five were the best of the best.
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
The year’s longest album title (so far) serves as a thesis statement for another fiercely powerful record infused with every bit of the tenacity Case is known for. The serrated guitar and violent frustration on the lead single, “Man,” make for a song more vicious than anything Case has done up to this point. That’s impressive, coming from a woman whose last album saw her embody tornadoes and monsters, yet the album’s most emotional track, “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” is a short, empathetic a cappella retelling of a heartbreaking incident at a bus stop. The Worse Things Get is Neko Case at her most formidable.
The Electric Lady
Janelle Monáe should be a household name. Given her meticulously focused image and her penchant for android-themed concept albums, her music has been criticized for choosing style over substance. Fortunately, The Electric Lady has enough substance here for two albums and enough style for three. Since the beginning, Monáe has been resiliently unique, drawing inspiration from everything from sleazy funk (“Q.U.E.E.N.”) and ’90s pop (“Electric Lady”) to modern R&B (“PrimeTime”) and jazzy soul (“It’s Code”). The short talk-show skits that serve to propel the concept’s loose narrative break up the flow of the album, but if the next and final piece in the series can maintain this standard, it won’t be an exaggeration to call the collection a masterpiece.
Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels
After years of guest verses and guest productions, the rap romance has finally been consummated. Killer Mike and El-P (El-Producto), two long-time staples of the rap scene, released a brand new self-titled mixtape in July under the moniker Run the Jewels. Recent solo albums from both men leaned toward the darkly serious and overtly political, but together they let it all hang out. Run the Jewels is about unleashing the uncharacteristically loud, violent (and hilarious) braggadocio that they’ve both avoided their whole careers. They’re here to taunt you and beat you down with El-P’s flurry of body blows and Mike’s big right hook. Aided by Producto’s trademark ominous dungeon beats (the title track in particular is El-P’s finest production work to date), Run the Jewels might be the most fun album of the year.
“First you make ‘em like you / then you make ‘em unlike you,” Kanye snarls on “I Am a God.” After the hugely grandiose production on critically-adored (and criminally under-heard) My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye swings the pendulum the other direction. Yeezus wholly embraces an aesthetic only Kanye could even attempt, shifting between uncomfortable industrial beats and demonic, black synths and strings under the oversight of the enlightened guru Rick Rubin. What results is the biggest release of the year with exactly zero radio singles, even though tracks such as “Black Skinhead” and “Blood on the Leaves” are terrifyingly powerful in their black rage. Over a short 40 minutes, Kanye maintains his throne and proves that Yeezus is a malevolent deity indeed.
Earl Sweatshirt’s early years are like a backstory to a rap superhero. His father, a South African poet, left the family when he was young. Earl joined the dubious young Los Angeles rap/skate collective Odd Future before his mother, a law professor at UCLA, became worried and sent him to a school in Samoa for at-risk boys. Now, at the age of 19, Earl Sweatshirt is back with his astounding solo debut, Doris. The complex interior rhyme schemes and effortless delivery of his English-major vocabulary are enough to floor you — the twisting single “Whoa” is brilliant even on a phonetic level. The tradeoff is that between the lyrical monsoon and hookless, unfocused beats, Doris is exhausting to listen to. It’s an album that rewards close listening, but rap-heads should prepare for a workout.
Parker Evans is an economics senior and Mustang News music columnist