1. Paramore - Paramore
I didn't write Paramore off at all after the Farro brothers left, least of all because of their stated reasons for leaving. But I did really like the riffs and drum fills they brought to the band's sound, and the first song they released after they left, "Monster," was pretty forgettable (as were the ), nevermind the fact that I never liked Brand New Eyes
as much as Riot
. So when they came with this, a midcareer self-titled album (always kind of an eyerolling 'statement'), and the lead single "Now," which is fine but not anything special, my expectations were pretty low. And then the second single "Still Into You" blew me away, and the whole album turned out to be flat out amazing, just a huge stylistic breadth over 17 tracks, the remaining trio completely stepping their game up and making the best Paramore album ever. The gleeful pop punk of "Anklebiters," the unexpected funk of "Ain't It Fun," the three confessional acoustic interludes, the '80s goth guitars of "Part II," the Blondie homage of "Daydreaming," I can't remember the last time a rock album did so many different things so well. Or the last time I wanted to listen to one as often as I want to listen to this. Oh and also "Grow Up" is fantastic. Also "Fast In My Car." And "Proof." Check it out on my Spotify playlist
of 2013 albums I've been listening to.
2. Fantasia - Side Effects of You
I always liked Fantasia's voice but was not super impressed with her material outside of "When I See U," but damn, this album is killer. And one of the main reasons for that is Harmony Samuels, who produced all but one track on this, and did a lot of my favorite singles of the past year (Keyshia's "Enough Of No Love," Ariana Grande's "The Way," Sevyn Streeter's "I Like It," Marcus Canty's "In & Out," JHud's "Think Like A Man"). Samuels doesn't have one particular distinctive sound, which is really his strength on a project like this, it's all over the place but still has a high quality control, and stays within Fantasia's lane. The way "Change Your Mind" builds a really dope new song over the "I'm Your Baby Tonight" groove is a particular favorite, but it's full of jams.
3. Nova Starz - Dark Lovely Places...For The #Ragers
I just interviewed Nova Starz and her producer Street Scott in the Baltimore City Paper
recently, and they're good people, I was happy to help them get the word out about this record, which is some cool unique shit. I already wrote a lot about it, but you can check it out here
4. Tate Kobang - Hitler Hardaway
This is one of my favorite new Baltimore rappers to come out in the last couple years, really enjoyed his tape last year and this one's crazy. Tate Kobang is part of a crew with Baltimore club producer Matic808, who does a lot of great midtempo beats on this tape, and the whole sound of it is really fresh and aggressive, lyrically it's on an ignorant tip but there's intelligence in the rhymes, which pretty much describes my favorite kind of rap. Need to write about these dudes in greater detail at some point, but in any event, check the tape
5. Fall Out Boy - Save Rock And Roll
Two of my favorite albums of the last 5 years are Folie A Deux
, the flop that sent Fall Out Boy into an extended hiatus, and Soul Punk
, the solo album Patrick Stump made during that break that did even worse commercially. So it's a little bittersweet to see the band score a triumphant comeback with a record I don't like nearly as much as those two, although it's perfectly fine by any other standard. "My Songs" was interesting to write about
when it first dropped out of nowhere, but now that it's actually become a bigger crossover hit than I thought it had any chance of being, it's helped me key in on the sound of the album, which is in a weird way more processed and 'pop' than even Infinity On High
. So maybe if this has 3 or 4 big singles it'll help me come around to totally getting this album's approach ("Alone Together" and "Young Volcanoes" and "Just One Yesterday" certainly sound more like hits to me than "My Songs"), but for now I just like it. And for once, the stunt casting is actually one of the best things about the album, Courtney Love on "Rat A Tat" and Elton John on "Save Rock And Roll" are both kind of amazing.
6. Chance The Rapper - Acid Rap
I'm not totally on board with this guy, all the 'nanananananana AHH!' stuff is really really not cute at all -- when he starts coughing in the middle of doing it at the end of (of course) "NaNa" I'm actually happy, whether or not it was scripted or whatever. But he's obviously talented and has something to say, but aesthetically I'm just hoping he goes somewhere else as he gets better, and hopefully doesn't sing too much, his phrasing is even more irritating than Drake's when he gets melodic. Also it's pretty horrifying that the song I enjoy the most on this is the one with Childish Gambino.
7. Los - Becoming King
For me, being involved in Baltimore music and writing about artists here is about the music and the people and the community -- I cheer anyone's success but I'm not really invested in it as a horse race, predicting who'll be a big star or trying to make that happen beyond just writing honestly about the music I enjoy. Still, genuine surprising success stories, when they happen, can be thrilling -- so the last few years of watching the rise of Los have been a trip. This dude
that once sat in the living room of my old apartment on Pratt Street watching MTV James now has the most downloaded mixtape of the month on DatPiff
(about twice as popular as Chance The Media Darling!). Every time Los drops a new tape, it does better than the last, but I also keep waiting for the perfect project that completely lives up to his talent, and Becoming King
isn't quite it, but it's pretty damn good. Love the title track and "Disappointed."
8. Brad Paisley - Wheelhouse
I already cherry-picked a couple favorites from this already for the deep album cuts playlist
, but the whole thing is pretty solid, aside from That Song and a couple other concept songs that don't quite work. Actually, "Accidental Racist" isn't even the song most ruined by a guest rap -- "Pressing On A Bruise" is fantastic right up until the moment Matt Kearney shows up.
9. The Band Perry - Pioneer
Over the course of their sleeper debut and the first couple hits from this album, I've started to respect The Band Perry as a pretty consistent singles act. I'm not sure if this quite gels as an album I want to revisit a lot as an album, though, it functions pretty well as a collection of singles and future singles and would-be singles, "Forever Mine Nevermind" being the one I most hope ends up on the radio this year.
10. Styles P - Float
He's had such a busy late career renaissance that it's becoming kind of easy to take Styles P for granted -- every year he drops one or two new albums, and they're pretty much all really solid, but no real masterpieces, and no real stakes in his career at this point (even being on one of the biggest rap songs of the last few years, "BMF," didn't seem to have any impact). This one, produced entirely by Scram Jones, sounds great, but I do wonder how much I'll remember about it once the next LP rolls around in 2014. Maybe "Hater Love" and "I Need Weed," those bang.
Worst album of the month: IO Echo - Ministry of Love
It's rare that I get sent CD promos in the mail anymore, which is mostly a good thing because it means a lot less waste of plastic and packing materials, everything being digital as far as promos are concerned is a positive change. But now and again a CD shows up in my mailbox, and I'm like well, I guess this is something I can put in my car stereo. This game with a press release and looked all professional, and had details of big bands IO Echo had toured with, but I'd never heard of them, so I was like OK, we'll see what's this about. And it's about, like, everything I hate about certain modern strains of post-everything indie rock, just a bunch of slow tuneless singing over garish mountains of preset textures slathered with reverb, a totally charmless dead end where aesthetics take privilege over songwriting but the aesthetic is tired and ugly.