Gunplay: "Bogota Rich"
When Miami rapper Gunplay dropped "Bogota Rich" in March, it was widely considered to be a solid, gleefully rowdy collection of street raps from the loose cannon of Rick Ross's Maybach Music Group family. But in October, the mix tape became something greater.
That month, Gunplay was involved in a brawl outside of the BET Hip-Hop Awards, where he was jumped by a group of men believed to be members of another rap collective, G-Unit. He took a beating but quickly hopped up, seemingly unscathed. Then he started fighting back.
The details of the fight were easily verified, thanks to online video, but the legend of the battle quickly snowballed: "Gunplay beat down a group of bodyguards with one hand tied behind his back!" "He laughed while getting pepper-sprayed!" That mythology has transformed "Bogota Rich" from a strong bunch of unhinged, over-the-top raps into urban folklore. Gunplay is now the rare rapper who has listeners inclined to believe even his most outrageous boasts. He really seems, as he says on the track "Low Life," to be "unmurkable."
When Gunplay, whose voice manages to be both singsong and menacing, says he'll "Put you on the hook / now you're bait," on "Food Chain," it seems likely to spawn a rumor about him fishing with his enemies' body parts.
On the wild ride that is "Jump Out," the hail of machine-gun fire and blood-curdling screams are just sound effects, but when Gunplay calls himself a "human L.A. riot" and raps, "I'm pulling up, I'm putting down / Looping up, I'm jumping out / Okay, here come that trouble now / Turn your hood to Lebanon," it doesn't exactly feel like hyperbole.
Recommended tracks: "Jump Out," "Low Life"
Tyvek: "On Triple Beams"
Tyvek lost out by being first. The Detroit band -- really just guitarist Kevin Boyer and an ever-rotating cast of musicians -- was among the first groups to resuscitate lo-fi garage-punk during the mid-'00s, but by the time the rest of the world got excited about scuzz and grime, the band had slipped back into the scenery. Nevertheless, Tyvek has cranked out a series of excellent albums over the past few years, each with at least one blown-out anthem capable of rattling through your skull all year long.
On the band's latest record, "On Triple Beams" -- which quietly sneaked onto store racks in November, just shy of the year-end wire -- that song is "Wayne County Roads." Boyer repeats three fuzzy chords over a Punk Rock 101 rhythm, cursing out his buddies for fleeing their home town for culturally cooler climes. "Friends that I hold so dear, I'm sad to report / Not hardly one soul around to defend the fort," he yelps.
As a songwriter, Boyer sticks to what he knows, which is Detroit and its weirdo-music crew, but his scene-angst has more universal appeal than you'd think. When he seethes about hipster-flight, he's calling on people to be creative, to toughen up and to persevere, rather than bail out. Tyvek can pull off an inspirational nugget every now and then, because it's coated in so much sonic grit and gristle. The message isn't always positive, either. Sometimes Boyer sings about plastic bags, blight and rent. On "City of a Dream," the band busts on notions of urban renewal. Boyer is not above cynicism, so you know you can trust him.
Recommended tracks: "Wayne County Roads," "City of a Dream"
Pallbearer: "Sorrow and Extinction"
It was a great year for the brand of metal that critics tend to like, which is usually made by brainy, virtuosic brawlers like Baroness and Horseback. Add Pallbearer to that list. "Sorrow and Extinction," the official full-length debut from the Little Rock foursome, offers up sparing-yet-simultaneously-butt-kicking doom rock, painstakingly done.
It starts off with the 12-minute "Foreigner," which begins with a prolonged passage of acoustic strumming before slipping into barely-there sludge with the slightest whiff of prog. From there, almost every pillar of hard-rock conventional wisdom is ignored: It eschews Norse gods, fairies, artificial intelligence and other frequent touchstones of metal mythology; it rocks not all that hard and only occasionally; and it's just as interested in the spaces between the notes as in the notes themselves.
Pallbearer may disregard many of metal's tropes, but the band doesn't ignore the genre's history. Frontman Brett Campbell's vocals are the closest a person can get to vintage Ozzy Osbourne without actually being in Black Sabbath in 1973. And "Sorrow and Extinction" is appropriately lugubrious -- the band doesn't perform these songs so much as carry them on their backs -- with as much death-obsessed melodrama as you would expect from a band named Pallbearer, all packed into the confines of five tracks.
The disc's last song, "Given to the Grave," packs epic heft into its mere four lines ("Carry me to my grave / When at long last my journey has ended / On the path that leads from here into oblivion / When no more sorrow can weigh me down"). "From here into oblivion" isn't just the album's most searing image; it's a nifty summation of Pallbearer's entire existence. And it would have made for a great album title.
Recommended tracks: "Foreigner," "Given to the Grave"