Top 10 Tracks of 2013

2013 was a crazy year for music, as many musical artists defied typical convention within their music and the marketing of their music. Jay-Z released an album onto a cell phone, Beyonce released an album without any promotion, and countless artists leaked their own album as an attack at the label they were signed to.  There was a lot of quality music to choose from in 2013, but I managed to find 10 of my favorites, listed here in no particular order.

1)  Phoenix – “Bourgeois”

This is my favorite “arena-rock” style song of the year. The kind of song that sounds best while being blasted loudly in front of a large crowd on a summer night.

2) Local Natives -“Colombia

I had heard a lot of Local Natives songs I liked before, but none of them quite clicked like this one did. It’s haunting, but also distinctly powerful and beautiful.

3) Ellery James Roberts – “Kerou’s Lament

This song immediately sucked me in from the first time I heard it. Its the kind of song that’s either loved or hated, but the songs ambition and passion cannot be argued.

4) Lana Del Rey – “Young and Beautiful

Pretty sure this song will go down as a classic.

5) Vampire Weekend – “Diane Young”

Vampire Weekend’s album, Modern Vampires of the City, was my favorite album of the year. Picking a favorite song was difficult, but “Diane Young”  never fails to get me to sing along to it.

6) Pusha-T – Numbers on the Boards”  (Explicit)

This song was my favorite hip-hop song of the year. Its dark and aggressive, but also funky and smooth. The main character is simultaneously arrogant, paranoid, insecure, and confident, if that’s even possible.

7) Disclosure – “When a Fire Starts to Burn

One of my favorite sample-based songs of the year. Fans of the Avalanches will feel quite at home here.

8) Daft Punk – “Touch

It bobs and weaves, ebbs and flows, gets loud, then gets quiet, and simply goes where no Daft Punk song has ever gone before.

9) FKA Twigs – “Water Me

This song gets pretty full-on weird, but also full-on awesome.

10) Kanye West – “Black Skinhead” (Explicit)

Sits somewhere between rock and hip-hop, and was on the of the most bombastic, loud, and crazy songs of 2013.

 

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Magna Carta Holy Grail Falls Short

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Magna Carta Holy Grail by Jay-Z

2.5/4

“And We’re All Just Entertainers And We’re Stupid and Contagious”

Holy Grail” begins the album with this phrase, an interpolation of the chorus of Nirvana’s classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Though Jay-Z borrows the lyrics, the sentiment behind the phrase could not be more different. Kurt Cobain, when penning the original phrase, “Here we are now entertainers, I feel stupid and contagious”, meant it as a bit of angst paranoia, afraid of spreading his cynical mindset. Jay-Z re-purposes the phrase as a way of laughing at his critics. Whether or not you agree with his message, you can’t deny that people are listening. When Cobain wrote the original phrase, he was at the beginning of the growth of his success and fame. Jay-Z is at, arguably, the “falling action” phase in the plot of his life. Unfortunately, the lyrics of Magna Carta Holy Grail cover the same ground Jay-Z has covered for the last 3 or 4 albums, and Jay-Z simply doesn’t sound anywhere near as energetic as he was on the bombastic Watch The Throne.

That being said, Jay-Z rolls out the red carpet for Magna Carta. Vocal guests include Frank Ocean, Rick Ross, Beyonce, and of course, Suit and Tie-mate Justin Timberlake. The star-studded producer list stars a comeback Timbaland, the extremely on fire Pharrell, up-and-coming Travis Scott/WondaGurl, as well as the requisite Swizz Beatz, Hit-Boy, The-Dream,  and Mike Will Made It. These collaborators all bring a consistent intensity and quality to the album-you can tell they’re giving Jay-Z the best they have. The quality of the guests only serves to make Jay’s contribution more disappointing. For instance, Hit-Boy continues to show how versatile of a producer he is with the beat for “SomewhereinAmerica”. The beat starts with off-kilter horns and boom-bap drums before adding a twinkling piano loop, and is one of the best beats on the album. Jay-Z unfortunately chooses to spend the majority of the track with throw-away lines such as a repeating joke about Miley Cyrus twerking.

That isn’t to say there is a complete absence of quality songs. “BBC” successfully rides a similar vibe as the break-out hit Robin Thicke song “Blurred Lines”, both produced by Pharrell. “Tom Ford” has Jay-Z riding a “N—– in Paris” style beat, though Jay-Z is missing the contrast Kanye brings. “Picasso”, the albums highlight, shows Jay-Z at his hungriest on the album, and is anchored by a solid Timbaland beat. Jay-Z offers a word of warning for those in the limelight on “Holy Grail”, when he raps “Bright lights is enticing, But look what it did to Tyson”. Jay-Z seems determined not to join the large group of celebrities who blow all their money shortly after making it. As a rap artist, this sets him apart. No other rapper has diversified their investments and business ventures as much as Jay-Z has, proving that he is a “business, man”. Perhaps the biggest problem of Magna Carta is that it’s all an outward appearance. There’s so little introspection into the heart and soul of the man on top of the world. Jay-Z mentions a lot of famous artists on Magna Carta, but unlike Picasso and Da Vinci’s finest works, the album fails to leave a lasting impression.