In general, this year has smoked 2013 as far as absolutely fantastic releases go - sadly, the exception has been hip hop. I don’t know why, but nothing in that realm has really impressed me all that much until this month. So, instead of my usual five picks, I’m going to talk about three hip hop LPs that I really dug on this month, and then three albums from different genres. Cool? Cool.
Mick Jenkins - The Water[s] (Self-Released)
Chicago MC Mick Jenkins is not a particularly new name in the world of hip hop, but I certainly had not heard of him until this mixtape dropped. I’m pleasantly surprised with what Jenkins brings to the table here, fifteen tracks of airy and laid back songs all mostly based around the concept of the importance of water. There are some moments where it’s almost a little much, but Jenkins’ flow is fantastic and many of the hooks on this tape are very catchy. Definitely one of the most interesting hip hop projects I’ve heard in some time.
STANDOUT TRACK: ‘Jazz’
Katie Kate - Nation (Self-Released)
In a world where female hip hop is dominated by acts like Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea in the mainstream, it is extremely refreshing to hear someone with as much passion and uniqueness as Seattle rapper/singer Katie Kate. On this, her second full-length LP following 2011’s Flatland, Katie Kate spits fire over strange and experimental beats with just a few features here and there. On songs like ‘The Visions’ and ‘Rushmore,’ Katie is coming full force with smooth flow and clever lyrics, and then ‘Sadie Hawkins’ appears on the back end of this album, which is simply a very bright indie pop song yet doesn’t make the album sound inconsistent. An excellent release.
STANDOUT TRACK: ‘Rushmore’
Hilltop Hoods - Walking Under Stars (Golden Era)
Australian trio Hilltop Hoods caught my attention last year after picking up a CD sampler of theirs that was released on Record Store Day. There’s definitely an aspect of attraction by accent here, but these dudes write really fun and catchy hip hop songs that don’t sound like any of their American counterparts. Walking Under Stars collects a much darker and more solemn selection of tracks, dealing with things like fatherhood, depression, and feeling lost, but is fairly balanced with the more upbeat tracks like the rock-banger ‘Rumble, Young Man, Rumble’ (featuring Dan Sultan, who is basically Australia’s answer to Lenny Kravitz) and the ridiculously fun ‘Cosby Sweater.’ It took me a few listens to get into this one, but it fits in perfectly with their last couple of albums.
STANDOUT TRACK: ‘Cosby Sweater’
Dwarves - The Dwarves Invented Rock & Roll (Recess)
People seem to fail to mention the Dwarves name when talking about punk rock importance. Originally from Illinois’ very okay suburb Highland Park, these guys have plenty of albums under their belt that combine elements of garage rock, hardcore, and straightahead punk music. Though popping up and playing shows and touring every so often, the Dwarves have been fairly quiet as far as new music is concerned since their last LP, 2011’s The Dwarves Are Born Again. Blag Dahlia and company are back in full force on this record, though. Clocking in at just over 26 minutes, the fifteen songs that make up …Invented Rock & Roll are fast, angry, and snotty, in just the way that the Dwarves have perfected over their career. Definitely one of the best punk albums of this year.
STANDOUT TRACK: ‘Sluts Of The USA’
Cold World - How The Gods Chill (Deathwish Inc.)
First off, Cold World certainly gets the award this year for best album title, as they should have received in 2011 for their last LP, Dedicated To Babies Who Came Feet First. This hardcore outfit takes their genre and twists it together with hip hop attitude in a perfect amalgamation of sonic fury, and it’s done so in only 27 minutes on this album. Though it’s now been about three years in the making, How The Gods Chill is one of the most fun and interesting hardcore records you will hear this year. MCs from Kool G Rap to Meyhem Lauren to Max B appear on this album, and only enhance the the intensity that Cold World brings forward.
STANDOUT TRACK: ‘The Real Deal’
Opeth - Pale Communion (Roadrunner)
Opeth has always been a band I’ve respected but never listened all that deeply into. The Swedish prog-metal outfit first caught my attention in 2008 with the Watershed album, and that I really dug on. While I enjoyed their next LP, 2011’s Heritage, I think I really onliy listened to it one time all the way through. I’m not one of those purists that only cares about the early Opeth records that have a much more metallic sound than these newer ones (you’re damn right I dig hard on Damnation), but I just never really had the chance to dissect that record that much. I plan to return to that album as well as the rest of their back catalog after hearing Pale Communion, because this record is a monster. Mikael Åkerfeldt is a fantastic singer and songwriter, and he utilizes both of these abilities to an excellent degree on this album, and the band as a whole sounds incredibly tight. It’s a perfect album if you’re a fan of ’70s prog but aren’t really into the heavier side of things, or vice versa. I think Opeth has really found the sweet spot in their sound on this album, and I’m very excited to see where they go next and hopefully see them in concert this winter.
STANDOUT TRACK: ‘Goblin’
WYSBLT: JULY ‘14
WYSBLT: TOP 25 OF 2014 (SO FAR)
WYSBLT: MAY ‘14
WYSBLT: APRIL ‘14
WYSBLT: MARCH ‘14
WYSBLT: FEBRUARY ‘14
WYSBLT: JANUARY ‘14