Best Music Projects of 2013

Chance The Rapper by Bryan Lamb

Photo by Bryan Lamb

With new projects from established musicians like Daft Punk, Kanye West, and Neko Case to up and comers like Chance the Rapper, Lorde, Disclosure, 2013 was a huge year for music. Through a very scientific method, the Ruby Hornet staff has gone through the eclectic mix of 2013’s various project releases from hip hop, R&B, indie rock, soul, techno, EDM, and more to deliver our definitive list of 2013 music projects. Check out our list below!

"Acid Rap" - Chance the Rapper

What more is there to say really? The follow-up to the Chicago artist’s 2012 debut release, 10Day, Chance’s 2013 project blew up fast than anyone on the country could have expected, carrying the 20-year-old Chatham native to stratospheric heights that has seen Acid Rap at the top of many year-end lists, battling with Kanye West and other industry heavyweights on the strength of his free Internet release, after less than eight months. It’s easy to forget that the warm Spring day at Jugrnaut on Chicago’s South Loop where the Acid Rap party began was on April 30. The whirlwind of events that have happened since are the stuff of legends: touring with Macklemore, Mac Miller, 40 sold-out headlining dates, Lollapalooza, etc. His honest, intoxicating ruminations over growing up, learning to live with loss and regret, all while trying to hold it together under a steady acid drip is perhaps the most refreshingly real, intuitive look not only at the world around him, but also within himself. In an interview earlier this year, Chance touched on his lyrical content, saying “I feel like I definitely have a responsibility to at least speak on what’s going on. As artists, we’re supposed to report and speak about what’s going on. But I don’t blame anyone musically for the violence.” On April 30, I wrote in the Chicago Sun Times that the glaringly personal, yet easily relatable project had the potential to be the next College Dropout. Having watched Chance rise the way he has using inherently Chicago themes both in words and musical style, he may just prove me right. Songs to listen to: “Acid Rain”, “Pushaman/Paranoia”, “Good Ass Intro”

"Settle" - Disclosure

Dance music, especially on this side of the Atlantic, has gotten increasingly stale and repetitive, with many DJs at this year’s Electric Daisy Carnival simply playing the same song as the artist before him, with only a slight change. Disclosure’s 2013 release Settle, is a refreshing glance back at 80s glam pop and up-tempo compositions that easily put you in the mood to move your feet, with carefully-selected features that blend perfectly into an inspiring aesthetic that is at once fun and thoughtful. That sentiment has been reflected throughout the end of the year as the DJ duo has found themselves at the top of not only most publications year-end best lists, but also the artists themselves. It is hard to permeate both pop and deeper sensibilities, especially in a saturated market like dance music, but Disclosure does it all on Settle. Songs to listen to: “Latch”, “Grab Her”, “Confess To Me”.

"Vampires of the City" - Vampire Weekend

Nobody with a pulse can listen to Vampire Weekend without singing along with lead singer Ezra Koenig to those ultra catchy choruses, or busting out a shoulder shake to the masterful beats of drummer Chris Tomson. It is simply impossible. This album is no exception to the pure indie-pop sound that Vampire Weekend produces with ease. Though I'm not completely on board with all of the experimentation with phaser effects and what not, I appreciate the solid songwriting and Paul Simon-y vibe of this record, from upbeat super singles like "Unbelievers" to the less obvious tracks, like "Obvious bicycle" (no pun intended) and "Everlasting Arms." Listen to: "Obvious Bicycle," "Don't Lie," "Worship You"

"Yeezus" - Kanye West

Well, what is there really to say about this one. The most controversially-discussed album of the year, of course came from the most controversial person in pop culture today. Kanye’s screaming indignation of his indifference to what is cool or trending on his 10 track, Rick Rubin-aided release is at once different and annoying. The album alone is an interesting look at how much one person can tell people what’s cool, and involves hyper-interesting aesthetics to songs like “Bound 2”, “Blood on the Leaves” and “Send It Up”. But, in the same breath he makes tracks like “New Slaves”, “Black Skinhead” and “Hold My Liquor” which demonstrate the larger-than-life artist stretching to find meaning at best. Against a somewhat-weak 2013 release schedule, Yeezus looks decent. Stacked up against albums like Graduation and My Dark Twisted Fantasy, and I’m not impressed. Songs to listen to: “Bound 2”, “Blood on the Leaves”, “Send It Up”.

"Overgrown" - James Blake

"Overgrown" James Blake - James Blake has one thing in his pocket that most artists would kill to have: he has yet to put out anything bad. Released on April, Overgrown is a sonically beautiful album thatp ulls from his previous releases, James Blake & Enough Thunder, while building to create something honestly unique and different. In talking to him for a story before his April show at Chicago’s Metro Theater following the release, Blake said to me about Overgrown, “For this album, I had a bit more money so I went out and bought some hardware to mess about with,” he said. “It’s been a lot more fun to produce like that — to have a few more things at your disposal.” Having teamed up with Chance The Rapper for “Life Round Here” Remix, there should be plenty more to expect from Blake. Songs to listen to: “Retrograde”, “Digital Lion”, “Life Round Here”

"Nothing Was the Same" - Drake

Nothing may have been the same, but not a ton changed for the 28-year-old Toronto artist. Just like he did on Thank Me Later and Take Care, Drizzy managed to put together a project of radio bangers, with just enough artistic integrity to skirt a definite “pop” stamp. Nothing Was The Same, Drake’s third studio album, gives listeners a continuation of the overtly-emotional, R&B-tinged ramblings of drinking too much Moet while trying to figure out if she’s the one, or just in it for the cash. The album is chock-full of features and bona-fide hits, including 2 Chainz, Jhene Aiko, Boi-1da, Jake One, Jay-Z, Hudson Mohawke, Sampha and more to create an album that seems to have every song on the radio, on the hour. “Hold On, We’re Going Home” may very well be played at all our weddings for years to come. If Drake is still depressed after this one, there’s no hope. Songs to listen to: “Too Much”, “Worst Behavior”, “Hold On, We’re Going Home”.

"Pure Heroine" - Lorde

Few artists emerged with as much fanfare or promotion as 16-year-old New Zealand-native Lorde. The entrancing “Royals” is a removed-lens view of the life of Lorde and her friends as they scrounge up enough change for the train and team up to make it to parties. Both her storytelling and her ability to connect instances to a larger context are much beyond her years, as is the powerful voice with which she delivers them. While she may have benefitted from listeners reacting purely to age, Lorde made fans across the board with an album she allegedly has been working on with Universal since she was twelve years old. Forget everything else, this project was just plain good. Songs to listen to: “Royals”, “Tennis”, “White Teen Teeth”.

"The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You..." - Neko Case

When I heard the first single "Man" off of The Worse I Get I could only hope the rest of the record was just as awesome - indeed it is. Neko Case wrote the album in the midst of grief and loss, creating a truly powerful and intimate collection of songs with a bite. The album features members from My Morning Jacket, Calexico, Camera Obscura, and M. Ward to name a few. Delving into depression with her claws out, Case sculpted her strongest and strangest record. Listen to: "City Swans," "Man," "Ragtime"

"Because the Internet" - Childish Gambino

Childish Gambino/Donald Glover has been one of the more interesting enigmas in hip-hop music since hitting the national conscious with his 2011 EP featuring the song “Freaks and Geeks”. Since then, Gambino has established himself as a creatively thoughtful lyricist that is more than this generation’s “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”. His last two releases, Royals and Camp have built upon the idea that you don’t have to personify a certain attitude or “look” to be a successful act in hip-hop music today. That he backs this up with a steady, mixed bag of rhyme schemes and intonations as he glosses over the intricacies of what the internet means to all of us, ironic because without the internet we may never have an artist like Gambino. Because The Internet is the culmination of everything we’ve heard from him this far, and a projection to what we can expect moving forward. Songs to listen to: “The Worst Guys”, “Worldstar”, “3005”

"Silence Yourself" - Savages

Silence Yourself is probably the most innovative album I've immersed myself in, in a very very long time. Savages, the four piece, London based, all female post-punk rock band takes us to a place of brutal honesty, kicking out the chair from underneath all of us, leaving us to face the fear, anger, and reality of the true disconnect that has come with being so connected in modern life. Guitarist Gemma Thomson rarely relies on chords to fill out the sound, using simple melodies with an enormous tone to compliment the bass, drums, and raw, feral vocals of front woman Jehnny Beth. Listen to: "Shut Up," Cities Full," "Hit Me"

"INNANETAPE" - Vic Mensa

The beginning of 2013 saw Chicago’s Vic Mensa in a very different situation than the end does. In January, Mensa was the frontman of the band Kids These Days, which broke up in May after a four year run. Released in late September, Innanetape is a experimentally-creative re-introduction for the Save Money hip-hop artist. Working with producer Peter CottonTale, the 20-year-old MC was able to craft a project that spanned years of experiences in music, creating a cross-genre mix of tracks that include production from Boi-1da, Om'Mas Keith, Hit-Boy, and more, including CottonTale and Mensa himself. Ever the resilient artist, Mensa parlayed a bad experience into one of the more inspired calendar years in hip-hop with this project. Songs to listen to: “YNSP”, “Run”, “Orange Soda”

"The North Borders" - Bonobo

I got my first proper introduction to Bonobo this past November in Austin, Texas for Fun Fun Fun Fest. The groups ambient, dream-like production is infectiously interesting, taking dance music out of the club for a moment to slow things down. Their live shows are invigorating and keep things up-tempo with tracks like “Cirrus” and “Know You”. The project has certain elements of UK house with a certain experimental flair that makes listening to the album once feel as though it just wasn’t enough. Songs to listen to: “Heaven For The Sinner”, “Antenna”.

"Push/Pull" - Elsinore

In the endless sea of fad indie-rock bands, it is quite refreshing to come across an unfading talent for songwriting and musicianship, and Elsinore's album "PUSH/PULL" is clear evidence of a band who has nowhere to go but up. Elsinore is the real deal when it comes to folk pop rock, and I am head over heals in love with this album. Lead singer and songwriter Ryan Groff creates a landscape of lovely lines and melodies that stay vivid in your mind for days, haunting and guiding your thoughts through his stories. Each track has a place and purpose, though Groff floats through the album effortlessly, engaging the listener until the very end. Listen to: "Art of Pulling," "Ultraviolence," "Mislocation"

"Tomorrow's Harvest" - Boards of Canada

Boards of Canada have long been one of the most creative experimental electronic acts in music. Characterized by ambient, down-tempo aesthetics, the tracks on their latest release were sculpted by Marcus Eoin and Mike Sandison over the course of eights years since their last studio release, 2005’s The Campfire Headphase and features timing changes throughout that are employed to give the album a sort of soundtrack feel from a much earlier decade. The result is a collection of seriously intense and beautiful compositions that are as easy to listen to as they are complex on the back end. Boards have had a tendency to push some listeners away with a frenetic pacing and off-beat samples, but they got it just right this time on Tomorrow’s Harvest. Songs to listen to: “White Cyclosa”, “Nothing Is Real”, “Palace Posy”.

"Trouble Will Find Me" The National

Trouble Will Find Me has the potential to be one of the best The National albums to date. It seems like the guys finally got to the point where they could take a step back from their intensity and not take themselves too seriously. Some may say it takes time for their music to really grow on you, but I think Trouble is their most easily accessible record to date, though I could listen to the deep, brooding, and beautiful baritone bass vocals of Matt Berninger any day of the week. Drummer Bryan Devendorf experiments a little more with mixed meter patterns on this record, highlighting his expertise and innovative beats. Put on this album with a stiff drink in hand and you are guaranteed to listen without skipping a single track. Listen to: "Graceless," "Demons," "Sea of Love"

"Wolf" - Tyler, the Creator

Tyler, The Creator has never been one to stray from the over-the-top and unruly. His first video featured a silhouette of himself eating a Tarantula and Gay rights groups protested his Pitchfork performance in 2012. So, when, on the opening track, “Wolf”, Tyler ruminates, “you think I’m crazy because I think you’re a fucking fag” it’s easy to think we’re in for another dose of what we’ve been expecting. On th latest project we find Tyler dealing with deeper issues and observations that come with quickly rising through the levels of the music industry while appearing not to care much at all. Tyler seems to have a shell on at all times, it’s very interesting to hear what happens when he takes that off. Songs to listen to: “Tamale”, “Awkward”, “Colossus”.

"The Bones of What You Believe" - CHVRCHES

If you like undeniably catchy electronic pop music then this is the album for you. The Scottish trio's debut LP is littered with hook heavy tracks to get you moving and shaking. The sound is clean and clear, with rocketing synths and glowing vocals from singer Lauren Mayberry. Chvrches brings some new ideas to the electro-pop world, possessing a well-rounded and more advanced sound than you'd expect from such a new group. Listen to: "Lies," "Recover," "Science/Visions"

"Feel Good" - The Internet

The Internet is one of several very talented electronic production teams to emerge throughout this year, perhaps an off-shoot of our over-saturated Protools society we now live in. Regardless of why, Odd Future members Syd and Matt Martians prove that the ofwgkta crew does more than just rap and do Comedy Central shows. Feel Good is one of those ethereal, deep-thought-inducing projects that can be easily played in the background of the party or dug through track by track to find hidden intricacies. “Sunset” featuring Yuna Zaraai may be one of my favorite songs from the whole year. Songs to listen to: “Sunset”, “Cloud of Our Own”, “Higher Times”.

"Phantogram" - Phantogram

This year also saw the first major release from the duo of Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel since 2011’s Nightlife EP. Rolled out throughout September and October of this month, the project is a continuance on what one could come to expect from the pair, with certain alleviations to new creative spaces along the way. Phantogram features the same mix of clever instrumentation and piercing vocals that can be found on previous releases, albeit with a new, somehow more confident feel to the tracks that make up the project. Songs to listen to: “Black Out Days”, “Celebrating Nothing”.

"King Krule" - King Krule

The buzz that surrounded 19-year-old British indie rocker King Krule (formerly ZooKid), reminded me of the rise of James Blake back in 2009/10. The gutteral, gritty voice is a throwback to 70s/80s British punk motifs, while the arrangement and experimental instrumentation pace the melodically-different tracks on the short project. It may have just been a brief EP, but this release from King Krule has laid the groundwork for one hell of a career moving forward. Songs to listen to: “Bleak Blake”, “Lead Existence”.

"Hummingbird" - Local Natives

The first time I saw Local Natives live lead singer Kelsey Ayer confessed that the band was supposed to be in L.A. recording their new album (Hummingbird), but when The National calls you and offers you a spot on their tour you don't turn them down. The National's influence is evident on this record especially with the melodic and asymmetric drumming style from Matt Frazier. Local. Natives deliver the same charm that is found on Gorilla Manor but Hummingbird is much less obvious, radiating a cathartic and mellow vibe. Listen to: "Heavy Feet," "Black Balloons," "Columbia"

"Amok" - Atoms for Peace

Well, to start, Atoms for Peace features both Thom Yorke and Flea playing music. Together. That in itself should be enough to get it on this list. I digress. Atoms for Peace is a project I have been anxiously awaiting for some time now. The super-group project that is the brainchild of the Radiohead’s Yorke and Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea produced one of the funkiest, experimentally intriguing projects to hit the inter-web. The funky feel of Flea blends beautifully with the carefully worked-out aesthetics of Yorke’s production efforts. Please, lay in some grass at some point in 2014 and listen to Amok. Songs to listen to: “Before Your Very Eyes”, Reverse Running”, “Amok”.

"Dual" - Sampha

Few artists came up over the course of 2013 as much as often SBTRKT collaborator Sampha. Having hit top singles with the likes of Drake, Solange and Jessie Ware, among others, the UK artist set out to show fans that he can do it alone as well, releasing this solo EP project earlier this summer. His melodic voice is at once infectious and off-putting at times, though not enough to stop listening. Sampha is a sort of collaboration robot, having worked on so many different projects with a variety of artists, here’s to hoping we can get another heaping of this next year. Songs to listen to: “Hold On”, “Sanctuary”, “Without”.

"We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic" - Foxygen

Sam France and Jonathan Rado were seemingly destined to make music together, if only to create this album. The indie psych-rock duo shuffles through musical genres, revealing an array of influences and styles. France is a true story teller, delivering images and lines to shock the senses. We Are is an album that speaks for the generation of 20 somethings, with a booming, wild, and eccentric voice. Listen to: "San Francisco," "On The Blue Mountain," "No Destruction"


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