Diamonds in the Rough: Three Stunning Albums You (Probably) Never Heard

by Max Evans From left: Mac Miller, Jack Johnson, and Jai Paul.

by Max Evans
From left: Mac Miller, Jack Johnson, and Jai Paul.

Take out your phone.

If you don’t have one, take out your iPod, get on your computer, find a place where you store your music. Put it on shuffle. It’s reasonable to assume that eventually, you might hear “I came in like a wrecking ball,” “I woke up in a new Bugatti,” or some other popular lyric.

Teens usually like listening to popular music; this is no new trend. Because of this, spending time at Norrix would make it seem like 2013 was a year for anthems about holding on and going home, being radioactive, and being a good girl and knowing it.

But sometimes, it isn’t the Drakes, Imagine Dragons and Robin Thickes that define a year in music. It’s the “unknown” artists that rank among the most remarkable.

These are the albums that didn’t get enough credit for being the most creative, chill, or just all-around awesome music to be found this past year. They are the three most underrated albums of the past year.

Jack Johnson, From Here to Now to You
“Mellow.” It was the word Mattawan High School junior Justin Hodges thought most described Jack Johnson, a surfer-songwriter who has been releasing relaxing songs since 2001. Johnson’s brand of chilled-out bonfire music has won him fans ranging from surfers to toddlers who loved his soundtrack for the movie “Curious George.”

For those who follow him, the release of “From Here to Now to You” was just more of the same from the always-happy Hawaiian.

“I like the clean sound, meaningful lyrics, and laid back tunes,” Hodges said.

So why wasn’t the album more popular? “I Got You” was released as a single, but other than that, Johnson remained quiet until the album’s release on September 17th. By then, the ideal time for this kind of music, summer, was winding down.

Also, those interested in danceable pop music will find no reason to pick up this album of laid-back, cheery songs. While it debuted at #1 on the Billboard pop charts, many teens haven’t heard of the album or even Jack Johnson. “I’ve never really heard of him,” Loy Norrix junior Collin Rickstad said. “[Johnson] isn’t really somebody I’ve ever listened to.”

“Yeah, I can’t imagine it being too much of a hit [with high-schoolers],” Hodges said. “But it still did well on its release. These mellow tunes will stick around for a while.”

Johnson’s latest album isn’t just full of “mellow tunes” though. “‘Radiate’ and ‘Tape Deck’ were best, because they’re out of character with upbeat tempos,” Hodges said.

“From Here” may have lost popularity with teens because of its end-of-summer release. Yet as this spring and summer begin to creep closer, you’ll need a soundtrack. Look no further than this surfer dude from Honolulu. He has the perfect music for taking a boyfriend or girlfriend to Lake Michigan, sipping a virgin margarita and saying, “I Got You.”

Mac Miller, Watching Movies with the Sound Off
Mac Miller was never expected to be deep, dreamy, or interesting. The Pittsburgh rapper created an underground fanbase on the strength of party starters like 2011’s “Donald Trump.”

Then he released “Watching Movies,” and quite a few of his fans were confused. Where were the raps about scoring girls and stacking paper? Mac was supposed to be a fun guy, but this new album featured “Remember,” a song about coping with a friend’s death. Grief and rememberance were really killing the vibe.

He also released it on June 18, the same day as Kanye West’s platinum-selling “Yeezus” and J. Cole’s gold album “Born Sinner,” so “Watching Movies” sort of got lost in the crowd. All signs pointed to this album being a disaster.

Of course, the album is no disaster. Those who listen to all 19 tracks are treated to a dreamland of clever raps over extremely creative beats. Miller even produced many of the tracks, under the pen name Larry Fisherman.

Mac did near-perfect work on his own, but he also recruited some of the best rappers to help. The album’s features read like a list of the best almost-famous rappers, ranging from classic thug ScHoolboy Q to 19-year-old phenom Earl Sweatshirt to the mysterious Jay Electronica.

Miller seems to understand that his album wasn’t what his longtime fans were expecting. However, he did throw in a raunchy song called “OK” with fun-loving rapper Tyler, The Creator to prove he still knew how to have a good time. On “OK,” Miller raps, “Album filled with all sad songs, but this the one that I can laugh on.”

“Watching Movies” won’t win over fans who want the old Mac back. But Miller proved that he’s not just a party-hardy frat boy anymore. He’s a mature, talented rapper with a bright future.

Jai Paul, Jai Paul
It seems that almost everything Jai Paul does is weird. In 2007, he released a song called BTSTU, and it was three years before anyone really noticed it. But when he posted it on MySpace in 2010, the song’s popularity exploded. Even stars like Drake and Beyonce recorded remixes. He responded to possible stardom by disappearing and not releasing any new music.

The British songwriter returned for a moment in 2012, releasing the song “Jasmine” on the website Soundcloud. This only made fans hungrier for a new album.

So when a Jai Paul album appeared on Bandcamp on April 14, fans were understandably excited. Sixteen songs mixing smoky R&B, Paul’s soft vocals and random Harry Potter soundbites were the perfect relief from six years of mystery. Kalamazoo Central sophomore Joseph Richardson enjoys the vocals, but feels they aren’t even the greatest bit.

“I think the production was the best part of the album,” Richardson said. “[The beats] made the album feel different than any other I had heard before.”

Despite the album’s excellence, some things about the album seemed really weird, which is to be expected with Paul. “BTSTU” and “Jasmine” appeared on the album, but they, along with all of the other songs, were untitled.

At times, the album also sounded low-quality, like someone had recorded it on a phone. All weirdness was confirmed with an official tweet from Jai Paul:

“…Demos on Bandcamp were not uploaded by me… Please don’t buy,” Paul said.

This meant the album was a fake. Someone had stolen rough copies of the songs and put them on Bandcamp hoping to make some money. The album was deleted by April 17th.

Currently, the only way to listen to “Jai Paul” is to find it on YouTube, or break the law and illegally download it, which is immoral and in no way condoned by Knight Life. However, the perfection Jai Paul put into these 16 songs is enough to make it one of the most original “albums” of the year, even if no one else was supposed to hear it yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s