First off, Happy New Year’s Eve to everyone. And if you’re having any kids in 2013, I hope they are not as spoiled as Kanye and Kim’s baby is about to be.
I make the same mistake every year. I start off the calendar year with hopes of listening to as much music as possible and writing all the albums down in Excel so I can keep a running list of my favorites. And every year around early November, I notice that I haven’t listened to nearly enough music as I wanted to and in a rush, I try to listen to all the albums I missed. Thanks to Spotify, it’s much easier to catch up than ever. And catch up, I did.
I will discuss my top five in some detail, but I do want to make a few notes on the other albums in my list, which you can see on the right.
(All apologizes to Big Boi whose latest album I was able to listen to a couple times and had I had another month with it, it would’ve definitely made this list.)
As you’d expect from the guy who does the write-ups for American Idol and X Factor, I check in on the alumni and thus, my list is chock full of American Idol artists such as Carrie Underwood, Ruben Studdard, Adam Lambert, and Phillip Phillips. Just outside of my top 15 was Elliott Yamin who really needs to do an R&B joint next time. You might be surprised at the Ruben Studdard inclusion. I may have been the only one to listen to it, but Big Rube’s musical journey through the ups and downs of a relationship is really good. It’s the album that you expected him to put together when he won American Idol ten years ago. It’s too bad the Idol hype machine wasn’t behind it though.
I know that Usher’s Looking 4 Myself wasn’t universally accepted as his comeback record after the dreadful Raymond Vs. Raymond. It is a better balance between the good Usher and his club songs that he feels he needs to make to stay relevant. You might argue that the club songs are going to speed up his exit. But he has some beautiful stuff on this album like “Climax” and “Show Me”. If he continues to make music like that, he’ll always have me as a fan no matter how many “OMG’s” are in his catalog.
I’ve never been a huge P!nk fan and I’m waiting for her to make her journey back to the more soulful side of the music scene, but I’m now convinced that she’s who Christina Aguilera wishes she could be. I was introduced to Esperanza Spalding by my buddy Almar (@almarsezstuff) who is very much into the neo soul/jazzy scene. And while it’s not my style of music to chill out to, I was pretty blown away. I wasn’t blown away by Frank Ocean after three listens. I had to put that bad boy away and listen again several months later before I got it. But I got it. That dude is talented.
A lot of hip hop fans younger than me will dismiss Nas’ 2012 album, but I dug it. It’s Nas doing music the way he thinks rap music should be done rather than doing it like the youngsters are doing it today. For instance, I can’t stand Drake. Give me old ass Nas over Drake any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Plus, “Cherry Wine” with the late great Amy Winehouse may have been my favorite song of the year.
One of the great things about being a part of the Popblerd! team is that you get to see what other diehard music fans are listening to. I threw out the name Ellie Goulding in our email group and quickly received a reply that made me decide to listen to her Halcyon. And I’m glad I did. Her voice is helium-esque at times, but she uses her instrument well. And I fell in love with “Anything Could Happen”.
And now, the top five.
5. Strange Clouds – B.o.B.
Rappers can be so one-dimensional, especially nowadays. Not B.o.B., who followed up his excellent debut with an album that wasn’t necessarily welcomed with open arms. I think many folks expected something different than the goulash he gave us. There’s a featured artist on 75% of the songs ranging from Lil’ Wayne (and really, whose record did he not guest on) to Taylor Swift to Nicki Minaj (see Wayne) to Ryan Tedder. But it’s by himself with “So Good” where he shines best. He’s the Michelangelo with the flow and Picasso with the bars. I don’t think it’s better than his debut, but essentially, he avoided that nasty sophomore jinx with a well-rounded list of tracks. I really can’t wait to see what he does for his next act.
4. R.E.D. – Ne-Yo
Ne-Yo is my single favorite contemporary R&B artist in the game today. While the strongest part of his game is his song writing, I think he’s a little underrated as a singer/artist. Though he may never live up to his best work, Year Of The Gentlemen, I think he comes closest with R.E.D.. Most of his best songs have to do with failed relationships and on this album, that is no different. Songs like “Miss Right” and “Carry On” are on par with some of his best songs ever. “She Is” featuring Tim McGraw has scary cross-over potential.
3. Unorthodox Jukebox – Bruno Mars
Bruno Mars’ album was an early December release, so I haven’t had all that much time with it. And it has to be the tidiest album of the year. It checks in at under 35 minutes, which means that I go through it twice when I’m at the gym. While I do wish it was a song or two longer, it is damn good for what it is. Save for the reggae-tinged “Show Me”, I enjoy the entire album. The lead single “Locked Out Of Heaven” is one of the best pop songs of the year. He has the balls to bring up cocaine (reminding us of that bust a few years ago) in “Gorila” which is a filthy slow jam. But I think “When I Was Your Man” may give him the best shot at longevity in 2013 for him.
2. The Idler Wheel… – Fiona Apple
She still does it for me. She’s still crazy. Still sickly skinny. And still sexy as hell. How is that even possible? “Every Single Night” is a creepy nursery rhyme. “Werewolf” is brilliant as she goes from soft as a pillow to angry and werewolf-y in seconds. But “Left Alone” hits harder than anything else I’ve heard all year long. The lyric, “Tears calcify in my tummy” is Wu-Tang grimy.
1. Born And Raised – John Mayer
This is now my second favorite John Mayer album of all time. Because of time and place, I’m not sure it will ever reach Continuum-level status for me. But it’s close. If Continuum was Mayer maturing, Battle Studies was a realization that he was a star and he really didn’t give a damn. Born And Raised is another coming of age work for him. It was almost like he said, “Okay, I know Battle Studies is a little stubborn and overly confident, so I’ll show you how good I am again.” Lead single “Shadow Days” is him brushing the dirt off his shoulders. “Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey” was the Twitter meme for when anyone felt reflective late at night (water, water, water, sleep). But his best song and most simplistic is “Love Is A Verb”.
In 2013, I promise to stay on top of my music game. Okay, I’m lying. I’ll probably listen to everything in November and December again.