Mosi Reeves’ Top Five Albums of 2013

Our critics recommend the best music of the year.

Kanye West, Yeezus

The last piece Lou Reed published before his death was a rave review of Kanye West’s Yeezus. He praised its audacity, but also noted, “many lyrics seem like the same old B.S.” The album is essentially a big-budget meditation on the old Nineties rap/Five Percent Nation theories that the black man is a “god” that can transcend racism and achieve spiritual greatness. West turns Nina Simone’s performance of Billie Holiday’s anti-lynching protest “Strange Fruit” into a modern-day lament of his temporal status as a black man, a high-wire act that he nearly pulls off until tumbling into an infuriating misogynist diatribe. He proclaims “I Am a God,” then undercuts his bellicosity with a very funny joke: Hurry up with my damn croissants. It is the ugliest album of the year, and it’s the most thrilling, too. Perhaps rapper/singer Phonte Coleman put it best when he compared West to the TV show Lost: “An unorthodox story that became an unlikely cultural phenomenon and just got weirder and more ridiculous with each season.” (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)

Disclosure, Settle

As the EDM amoeba consumes post-millennial electronic music and gathers corporate investors, it was only a matter of time before house music made a comeback. For many of us, house never left, thank you very much, but it was nice to see Disclosure bring its classically inspired, UK garage-inflected brand to festival stages around the United States. Brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence packed Settle with excellent singers, including Jessie Ware on “Confess to Me” and Jamie Woon on “January,” and while early supporters missed the lean instrumental grooves of 2012’s The Face EP, this big-budget debut lives up to the promise of that gem. Its songs are pure four-on-the-floor magic. (Island Records)

Earl Sweatshirt, Doris

In 2010, Earl Sweatshirt pushed hard at propriety with the rape-and-murder raps of Earl, part of a one-two punch that, along with Tyler, the Creator’s Bastard, marked Odd Future’s ascent as hipster sweethearts. (Cue Tyler growling, “We’re not fucking hipsters!”) Three years later, and following a much-publicized stint at a Samoa reformatory that fueled the meme “Free Earl,” the teenager reappeared, not only heavily medicated by marijuana and antidepressants, but also, most interestingly, by the cruddy, narcotic soul-on-78 loops of Los Angeles’ post-Madlib scene. He remains a captivating performer, but he’s much easier to like these days, having defended his mother against Internet trolls on “Chum.” Because he trades rhymes with the Wolf Gang, Vince Staples, and others so confidently, his words shine through the murk. (Tan Cressida/Columbia Records)

The Weeknd, Kiss Land

By now, we’re used to the Weeknd treatment: gauzy filtering of samples from Eighties goth and synth-pop songs, and lyrics about debauched parties, copious drugs, and pliant models delivered through a watery, echoing croon. Abel Tesfaye’s Canadian interpretation of la dolce vita has had a far-ranging impact on not only R&B, where seemingly every new album has a song made in a Weeknd style, but also alternative music, where innumerable artists have been inspired to make “alternative R&B.” On Kiss Land he mostly refines his usual themes, from the blurry one-night stands of “Wanderlust” to mooning over a girl on “Adaptation” as a loop of the Police’s “Bring on the Night” plays underneath. He doesn’t break new ground here — okay, maybe he refers to women as “bitches” a bit less. But with the music world still struggling to catch up to him, he doesn’t need to. (XO/Republic Records)

Ciara, Ciara

After a two-album swoon that nearly capsized her career, Ciara recovered her bearings just in time to capitalize on the blog illuminati’s rising interest in R&B. Ciara bears all of the tropes that mark the genre in 2013: an homage to Nineties R&B (“Body Party,” which lovingly samples Ghost Town DJs’ “My Boo”), a chopped-and-screwed beat (“Keep On Lookin”), and thinly disguised metaphors for alcohol and drug intoxication (“DUI” and “Overdose”). Like Chris “C-Breezy” Brown and Brandy “Bran Nu,” she drops a little rhyme on “Super Turnt Up” to prove she can hang with the big-dog rappers. But she performs with such panache that she injects new energy into these clichés. Her voice undulates to these sinuous beats. (Epic Records)

Honorable Mentions:

Jessy Lanza, Pull My Hair Back (Hyperdub)

Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels (Fool’s Gold)

Machinedrum, Vapor City (Ninja Tune)

Kendra Morris, Mockingbird (Wax Poetics)

Ka, The Night’s Gambit (Iron Works)

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