For the third year in a row, I felt like this was a better year for individual songs and singles than it was for albums. I suppose it makes a certain kind of sense in a digital era that the industry has returned its focus to singles, rather than albums. But it continues to make for a very frustrating listening experience.
This is not to diminish the great work that I’m about to highlight. It is incredibly difficult to make a great song. Can’t forget that just because most artists today are unconcerned with making complete album experiences.
So without further ado, hit that jump for the 15 songs that I consider the very best songs that I heard in 2013
I never really bought singles unless there was a B-side or a remix that was dope. And while I'm aware now that Michael Jackson's single + filler archetype is the dominant approach to album making for most black music, I still hold out hope that artists will give me 10, 12 or 14 songs that fit together in a way that makes for a complete listening experience.
In 2011, that happened far more infrequently for me than I would have liked. Last year, I did a list of 30. This year, I only got 10.
NOTE: I should also say that I haven't really had time to digest new material by Anthony Hamilton, Common, Meshell N'degeocello, Trey Songz, and The Roots (tho my initial reaction here was that it's the best album of the year) so I just couldn't justify ranking them at all.
Before we get to the top 10 after the jump, here are albums I liked, but didn't love:
Anwar Robinson, Everything (pleasant, but unremarkable except for "Come Over," which is sublime)
Johnny Gill, Still Winning (pleasant but unremarkable)
Idle Warship, Habits of the Heart (feels undercooked in places)
Frank Ocean, nostalgia/ultra (definitely feels undercooked)
The Paxtons, Avenue: A (a shade too in love with Kanye and Jay Electronica, but tight rhymes)
Cali Swag District, Kickback (far too long, far too short on the verve that makes their singles so hot)
And albums that disappointed me:
Ledisi, Pieces of Me (too adult contemporary for my tastes. much of this material is just not worthy of Ledisi's voice)
Jill Scott, The Light of the Sun (unfinished and undisciplined is the last thing Jill Scott needs. Tried to be like Worldwide Underground and failed miserably).
Beyonce, 4 (didn't go far enough toward real tried-and-true R&B or soul. full of messy lead vocals)
Kelly Rowland, Here I Am (the definition of derivative. three strikes and you're out, Kelly!)
Kelly Price, Kelly (zzzzzz)
Tyrese, Open Invitation ("Stay" should have been an indication of what this album would be, but unfortunately it's just a weird outlier on a standard bad male R&B album)
Ginuwine, Elgin (why Ginuwine thinks "maturity" equals "boring" is beyond me. someone get him his groove back, please.)
Pharoahe Monche, W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) (some mediocre production ruins this one for me)
Talib Kweli, Gutter Rainbows (too long, too much bad production. feels like an afterthought)
Raphael Saadiq, Stone Rollin' (i am over this retro Ray Ray. time to step into the new millennium, homie)
I love songs that have a subtext that reveals itself after a couple of listens. It makes multiple listens that much more enjoyable.
Sy Smith’s Distance is one of these songs. On the first few listens, you think the song is about sexual desire, longing, separation. But the more you listen to the song, you realize it’s really about guilt. You hear it in the way Sy sings the verse and how she calls him “darling” and “sweetness.”
But you hear it most clearly in the couplet that ends each verse:
Cause I have needs
And no discipline
The way she sings it is the key to the entire song. She rushes it.
Right there we know what’s really going on. It’s no accident, then, that the song is essentially a vamp from here on out. Sy is desperately, futily, trying to blame “distance.”
From construction to execution, Distance captures an aspect of guilt – misdirection, deflection – in a way I don’t think I’ve heard before. And it is compelling.