By DEREK BEAVEN & JOHN WYATT – STAFF WRITER & NEWS EDITOR
As college students, a large portion of our music comes from either what’s playing in the frat houses or what Pandora plays while we try to study.
It can be hard to find the time to scour the Internet for all the good music released throughout the year, and we often miss out on some great artists and albums.
But fear no more: in the second edition of In the Rotation, writers Derek Beaven and John Wyatt discuss their top three most underrated albums of 2013. The albums were judged “underrated” for various reasons: lack of radio play, little critical acclaim, no word of mouth/internet buzz, etc.
Beaven: Damien Jurado, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son: Damien Jurado has always been an artist that has flown under the radar. The Seattle-based folk guitarist has been churning out albums since the late 90’s, and his latest effort marks his eleventh studio album. Though Brothers and Sisters came out in 2014, it’s early enough in the year that I’ll group it in with the rest of 2013.
On this album, Jurado turns in a bit of a different direction, exchanging some of his folk origins for distorted guitars and echoing vocals. Songs like “Return to Maraqopa” show off his ear for overlapping melodies while other tracks like “Silver Katherine” show off his vocal chops.
The lyrics, perhaps the biggest strength of all of Jurado’s albums, are outstanding as he croons his sad songs into the microphone. He also shows his range in the album, producing songs that are simultaneously loud and soft (much like the popular 90’s band Pixies) as well as soft, well-sung ballads.
Best tracks: “Return to Maraqopa” and “Jericho Road.”
Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels: The rap/hip-hop duo of Killer Mike and El-P are pretty scary and they make pretty scary music. But, in a lot of ways, it’s done differently than most other rappers.
Killer Mike often just comes out to tell it like it is rather than hiding behind metaphors, or a “tough guy” persona. Run the Jewels is a good record with lots of tracks that you can bob your head to, like “Sea Legs” or “DDFH.”
The lyrics are solid, the flows are smooth, and the baselines kick harder than Anderson Silva. I’m not surprised this album wasn’t given popular airtime given Killer Mike’s general distaste for politics, but the album definitely deserves a listen or two.
Best tracks: “Run the Jewels” and “DDFH.”
Phosphorescent, Muchacho: I debated for a long time about including this in my top three, but I always keep coming back to it when looking for music to play in my room or in the car. It’s such a well-rounded album with a lot of different sounds, and everything about the album, from the music to the cover art, is just so cool.
And, of course, there’s the backstory: the guy was tired from touring, so he deuced to a hut in the Yucutan to “check out of life for a while.” How cool is that? Whatever happened in Mexico, Muchacho is full of emotion and life.
The album boasts one of the most beautiful, sad songs I’ve ever heard in “Song For Zula,” then turns on its head and provides us with the most fun track on the album, “Ride On/Right On.” Each song seems to be written and sung with a raw authenticity that isn’t always present in music today.
All in all, the album is a fun ride with tracks for any kind of mood.
Best tracks: “Song for Zula” and “Muchaco’s Tune.”
Wyatt: Denzel Curry, Nostalgic 64: I didn’t discover Denzel Curry until around late December of last year, a few months after he dropped his debut album Nostalgic 64.
Curry is a part of the southern Florida rap crew “Raider Klan,” and while most of his crew won’t make it past some moderate Internet buzz, Curry’s skill and ear for production could very well help him achieve some mainstream success.
In his debut album, Curry raps about topics ranging from street life and bad drug trips to parents and time spent with a special lady.
The production for the album heavily features trap beats in the same vein as Clams Casino or fellow Raider Klan member SpaceGhostPurp, although he does break it up on a few songs like “Widescreen” and “Parents.” Across the album, one thing remains clear: Curry can rap with the best of them. His ability to switch up flows instantly can be dizzying at times, but in the best way possible. Curry also has a keen sense of narrative in his rhymes, effortlessly telling a story while rapping with an aggressive, militant flow.
In case you couldn’t guess by the album title, Denzel Curry drops several 90’s references throughout the album, although it never feels like a gimmick or cliché he has to ride on. He instead keeps the audience’s attention with his mesmerizing, aggressive flow and quality production. Keep an eye on Curry; he won’t be a “slept on” rapper for long. Best tracks: “Parents,” “Threatz,” “Denny Cascade.”
Statik Selektah, Extended Play: June 18 was a big day for hip-hop fans this past year as Kanye West, J. Cole, Mac Miller, and New York-based DJ/producer Statik Selektah all released major albums that day. In the weeks leading up to this date, Kanye West’s Yeezus and J. Cole’s Born Sinner received the majority of the hype, and for most casual listeners those were the two takeaways from that date (whether good or bad, with Yeezus receiving strong mixed reviews). However, for me, the album I return to most was Statik Selektah’s.
Statik Selektah is one of the most respected producers in the underground hip-hop scene, often being credited as one of the revivalists of the 90’s East Coast boom-bap sound. In his second album, Statik recruits a healthy blend of young up-and-coming rappers as well as several rap legends. Artists on the tracks range from underground celebrities like Action Bronson and Freddie Gibbs to legends like Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon and Black Thought from the Roots.
The album doesn’t feature any radio candy or singles to top the charts, but it does feature a slew of talented rappers spitting some of the most solid verses seen in the year 2013 (Black Thought’s verse on the song “Bird’s Eye View” has been declared as one of his best verses of all time by several critics), all over arguably one of the best produced albums of 2013. Best tracks: “Bird’s Eye View,” “The Spark,” “Make Believe.”
Charles Bradley, Victim of Love: The one non-hip-hop album on my list, Charles Bradley’s Victim of Love is a follow up to his widely successful album No Time for Dreaming. As a big fan of soul music from artists like the Temptations and James Brown, anything this guy puts out is gold to me. His sound is pulled straight out of 60’s and 70’s soul music.
While his first album received almost universal praise from critics for its pure soul sound, Victim of Love received more mixed reviews, with several critics claiming he has lost touch with his fan base. However, Victim of Love, to me, feels like Bradley is finally taking that pure soul sound he became known for and adding a more modern feel to his sound, which is always a good thing for any genre of music. Best tracks: “You Put the Flame On It,” “Let Love Stand a Chance,” “Where Do We Go From Here?”