It’s that time of year where everyone makes a top 5 (or 10, or 40, or 100…) countdown. Favorite songs, favorite ridiculous Youtube clips, favorite cat videos. You name it; there is a countdown for it. For my part, I am putting forth a list of my personal top 15 albums of 2013. The albums I loved, learned to love, and really sort of hated, but appreciated the beauty of.
15. Arcade Fire, Reflecktor
After taking their time to follow-up the 2010 mega-hit The Suburbs, Arcade Fire is back with a Roxy Music influenced album. The notoriously artistic group will never consider themselves “mainstream”, however, this album is chalk-full of rhythm heavy, driven indie pop hits. There is a touch of disco and whimsy throughout the record, that provides an upbeat vibe to groove along to.
Listen to: We Exist, You Already Know
14. James Blake, Overgrown
On first listen, I absolutely hated Overgrown. I was so excited for James Blake’s follow-up to the 2011 debut, and I found the various styles and elements incorporated into the final product to be difficult to digest. After a few listens, however, I learned to appreciate the various layers to the piece. Blake pulls from R&B, pop rock, electric, and classic indie songwriter styles with grace and ease, all with a layer of simplistic and graceful vocals on top. Plus, he’s up for quite a few Grammy’s, so he can’t be too bad.
Listen to: Take a Fall For Me, Dim
13. Cage the Elephant, Melophobia
This album was a late entry, as I just acquired a copy from my brother-in-law a week ago, but Cage the Elephant delivers. They made a classic rock album, with solid vocals, tried and true guitar riffs, and a drum/bass line to keep everything moving. Melophobia is my favorite pick for a straight-up rock album.
Listen to: Come A Little Closer, It’s Just Forever*
*Alison Mosshart’s vocals on this track remind me of Ms. Mia Swier, another of my favorite female vocalists of this year
12. Capital Cities, In a Tidal Wave of Mystery
Everyone has heard of Capital Cities at this point, largely due to the mega-popular Safe and Sound. The track was everywhere, but what drew me to this album was the rest of the group’s work. This track is full of catchy little pop tunes, layered with multi-part harmonies and a wide array of horn sections. Safe and Sound may have put their foot in the door, but In a Tidal Wave of Mystery will keep Capital Cities relevant.
Listen to: Kangaroo Court, I Sold My Bed, But Not My Stereo
11. Bruno Mars, Unorthodox Jukebox
Bruno, Bruno, Bruno. How I love you so. I understand that every single Bruno Mars song becomes overplayed to the point of annoyance, but the man can sing. His follow-up to Doo-Wops and Hooligans did not disappoint, as the man breezes through pop jingles, ballads, and snazzy dance numbers. You’ve heard the hits, now appreciate the voice. Sidenote: Cannot wait for the Super Bowl Halftime Show!
Listen to: Treasure, Natalie
10. Kendrick Lamar, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City
Kendrick was the name on everyone in hip-hop’s lips this year, as the new kid on the block with honest, narrative, and autobiographical lyrics. He delivers each song with easy confidence and a smooth, laid-back delivery. I will admit, rap is not my favorite area of music, but you have to appreciate this guy’s talent. He is here to stay.
Listen to: Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst
9. Justin Timberlake, The Complete 20/20 Experience
If you would have told me that the kid from NSYNC with the blonde afro and occasional cornrows would be the most successful singer to transition from late 90’s boy bands to today’s pop scene, I would have called you crazy. Justin Timberlake has managed to make the transition appear relatively pain-free, with no mental breakdowns or theatrics. After a well-earned musical hiatus, he was back this year with a two-part album full of blues, soul, R&B, and pop-inspired hits. Part two was my personal preference of the two, as it had a darkier, edgier feel, but the entire package proves JT is back in a big way.
Listen to: True Blood, That Girl
8. Chvrches, The Bones of What You Believe
Chvrches is another album that grew on me over the year. Originally, I hated the synth. I hated the light, soprano vocals on every song. I hated the bright feel of all of the songs. As the year went on, this album slowly forced itself to the front of my playlists. I found myself drawn to the happiness that stems from the upbeat, light background of each song. There is just something inherently optimistic about this band’s sound. Couldn’t we all use a little pep in our step these days?
Listen to: The Mother We Share, Lungs
7. Bastille, Bad Blood
Obsessed. That is how I would describe myself when I first heard Bastille’s Pompeii. There are tribal chants, amazing vocals, peppy synthesizers, and precise percussion. What more could you want? Turns out the album also delivers references to history, Greek mythology, and biblical stories. So that’s fun.
Listen to: Flaws, Icarus, Daniel in the Den
6. Janelle Mona’e, The Electric Lady
Janelle Mona’e is a star. This is simply a fact. She has undeniable stage presence, a unique look and sound, and a stance as a powerful female vocal powerhouse. What a perfect recipe for success. The Electric Lady is simply amazing, with heavy funk and soul influences combining with classic rock and pop. This album is the future. Janelle Mona’e was sent from the future to educate us.
Listen to: We Were Rock ‘n Roll, Q.U.E.E.N.
5. Kanye West, Yeezus
Let me preface this choice with a statement. Kanye West is a complete and total jackass. He says horribly conceited things on a very consistent basis. Ignoring all of these facts, the man is talented. Yeezus was not super-popular with the top 40 crowd, but it is full of raw aggression and power. The man writes completely sick lyrics, samples from all of the best old school beats, and delivers it all with passion that is largely unmatched in today’s music industry. Say what you want about his personal opinions and choices, but Yeezus is an excellent album that challenges what is being put out there.
Listen to: Blood On the Leaves
4. Lorde, Pure Heroine
I get it, I get it. Everyone hates Royals at this point. It has been overplayed to the point of absolute loathing, but it is a good song. Lorde was the greatest breakthrough artist of the year. She is a young performer with an old soul, that challenges class systems and economic drift instead of focusing on parties and showing skin. Royals got her foot in the door, but Lorde’s pure talent and ability to write and perform truly honest, relevant songs will keep her around.
Listen to: Glory and Gore, Ribs
3. Beyonce’, Beyonce’
Oh, Beyonce’! If you need to see why this album is on the list, read my previous entry. Beyonce’ is our generation’s greatest star. She is a classy lady. She owns her body, and the Queen Bey wants all of her female fans to feel as strong and empowered as her. This album shocked the world (and the commercial industry) when Beyonce’ surprise-released it with no notice, no marketing, and no hard copies. It still sold over 800,000 copies in 3 days. Do yourself a favor and check out why.
Listen to: Flawless
2. Skye Ferriera, Night Time, My Time
Skye Ferriera had a long, hard fought journey to success. After years of fighting with her label over the “right image and sound”, Ferriera finally put forth an excellent debut pop-rock album. With self-deprecating lyrics that take responsibility for her attitude and trouble spots, this album feels like a chat with a friend. The sound has been described as early Whitney Houston/Madonna vibes, and that can only mean good things.
Listen to: I Blame Myself, Nobody Asked Me (If I Was OK), 24 Hours*
*I wish John Hughes could have heard 24 Hours. It feels like every classic 80’s movie ever.
1. Haim, Days Are Gone
If you have followed my blog at all, you should have seen this coming. Haim is the most glorious family-created band since Hanson. And, as has been established, I love Hanson. These 3 women span the 20’s in age-range, giving a vast insight into life and love from multiple perspectives. The precision vocals are beautiful and absolutely rocking, and the bass is played so hard by Este Haim, that the greatest bass-face to ever grace SNL’s stage was born. This band is making chick-rock cool again. They have an effortless rocker chick vibe to every song, and the live show is nothing short of fantastic. With a recent SNL appearance, and The Wire showing up on nearly every year-end countdown, it is clear that Haim is just getting started.
Listen to: My Song 5, The Wire, If I Could Change Your Mind
Sara Bareilles, Blessed Unrest; Mad Moon Riot, Make Me; The Killers, Battle Born; Paramore, Paramore; Rhye, Woman
As always, feel free to agree, disagree, or ignore me completely. These are only my summative musical thoughts for the year 2013!