Whenever I write about Kanye West, the mercurial rapper with the Yeezus complex — and I scribbled about Kim Kardashian's fiance a lot this year — I'm greeted with a tsunami of invective via phone, email, snail mail, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, you name the vitriolic delivery system. "You're wasting your life!" one surly reader barked at me. "Do something to make your daughters proud!"
Keep in mind, that missive was one of the sweeter ones. And yet, here I go again. Despite all the negativity and unwarranted ugliness aimed at me and my preferred hip-hop eccentric, if I'm writing about the best songs and albums of 2013, then I have to mention Mr. West. Somewhere, a carrier pigeon with a "You stink, Daly!" note is being prepped for takeoff.
My favorite song, moment, beat, lyric, whatever of 2013 was Kanye's Black Skinhead, a ferocious King Kong yawp aimed at those who are put off by (1) the color of his skin and (2) his incessant ability to get under yours. I'm telling you, we should all be able to enjoy the guy's filter-less honesty, even for a day. The Yeezus album from which the song is from is still a bumpy, albeit fascinating, ride; it's schizoid nature makes leisurely listens a difficult task. But I continue to fire up the pounding, skittering Black Skinhead, the flat-out best song of his career, on a daily basis. It truly made my year better.
Okay, let's move on to someone only slightly less polarizing: Miley Cyrus, who gets me a whole lot of hate mail as well, especially since I had the audacity to defend MTV's artist of the year numerous times: not her twerking or constant nekkidness, but her legit pop-music savvy. Bangerz was a smart, tricky, refreshing album, and had no interest in the usual rote dance beats that are currently smothering radio. The midtempo We Can't Stop was catchy and seductive, '80s-accented power ballad Wrecking Ball packed a wallop, and soon-to-be-single #GETITRIGHT, produced by the ubiquitous Pharrell Williams (Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines, Daft Punk's Get Lucky), is an old-school come-to-bed charmer.
There, that oughta get me a few more haters. Herewith, a few more songs and LPs I enjoyed in 2013, in random order.
• Say Something, the spare, brutal duet between NYC duo A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera, was a jarring smash for rather simple reasons: It got your attention with quiet despair and understated production, plus a restrained vocal from Xtina. For once, a pop hit didn't sound like it had been think-tanked by label heads.
• You know what country album I still listen to a ton? Darius Rucker's True Believers, which is frequently my soundtrack when I'm hauling tail over the Skyway Bridge. The rolling title cut packs feel-good oomph. That Wagon Wheel Dylan cover reminded us clever lyricism can still top the charts. And there's a duet with Sheryl Crow, Love Without You, that will leave you sobbing and in the fetal position ... but in a good way.
• Southern Gothic duo the Civil Wars parted ways for reportedly bitter, if still fuzzy reasons, and yet John Paul White and Joy Williams left us with an appropriately bittersweet adieu: a self-titled farewell LP.
• Twenty years from now, the most enduring album of this year just might be Kacey Musgraves' Same Trailer Different Park, which takes the shotgun sass of Miranda Lambert and layers it with a tipsy indie cool. While the men in country music these days are indulging in lazy party cliches (I'm looking at you, catfish king Luke Bryan), Nashville's ne'er-do-well women are pushing the outlaw envelope.
• If you're itching to spend that iTunes gift card Aunt Shirley always gives you for Christmas, here are a few more 2013 records worth a spin or three: The Lone Bellow, The Lone Bellow; Jim James, Regions of Light and Sound of God; Petra Haden, Petra Goes to the Movies; Daft Punk, Random Access Memories; David Bowie, The Next Day; Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City; Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience; Train, My Morning Jacket, The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.