Obligatory Top 15 Albums of 2013

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

 

Honorable Mentions:

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!

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Beyonce’

I have been traveling abroad for the better part of a week,without real Wi-Fi connections or phone access. It was incredibly relaxing to unplug from the world and just enjoy some time with a few of my closest friends, but it leaves you disconnected, having no real clue what is happening in the world at large. Imagine my surprise, then, when I returned stateside to discover that the Queen Bey herself had surprise released an entire album, in full, while I was away. Quickly, I listened to the entire thing start to finish. Beyonce’ has always been a favorite of mine, from her early days with Destiny’s Child, to her solo status as a complete and total superstar.

The thing about Beyonce’ that has always fascinated me is that she has an innate ability to be remain completely aware of who she is, what message she wants to send her fans, and how to empower young girls, while still being one of the most complete packages and an ever-evolving performer in the game. From Girls (We Run the World) to Single Ladies to IrreplaceableBey has been teaching young girls that being strong, beautiful and talented is worth something in this world. On her latest album, easily her most explicit album to date, Beyonce’ is upfront about her sexuality. She is candid and frank about what it means to be a grown woman, in a healthy relationship, and makes no apologies for her desires. She has learned a thing or two from her husband about discussing sex, but it never feels crude or forced. These new songs are simply a woman, known for being incredibly private, giving you a peek into her daily life. 

Flawless is definitely Beyonce’s crown-jewel on this album. It begins with a lesson on what we are teaching girls these days, a reminder of the inequality between the expectations between men and women. It then provides a message from the Queen herself about the importance of loving yourself, that everyone is flawless, no matter what. All of this is done to a slick R&B beat.

I’m not going to give my personal picks for this album, other than Flawless, because that is not how Beyonce’ intended it. This album is not meant to produce singles, or sell tons of copies, or even be heard in bits and pieces. It is meant to be heard start to finish, as a a manifesto of sorts. Her thoughts as an ever-changing and growing woman, as a wife and mother, and as the ever-magnetic performer that she is.

Beyonce - BEYONCÉ (Album Cover, Tracklist & Digital Booklet)

Sky Ferreira

Alright, I know. Total fail on keeping up with my posts. I’d offer some great explanation if I had one, but all I’ve got is life gets busy sometimes. Oops!

Anyway, as an amends, I bring you Sky Ferreira. Prepare to fall in love. I first heard this little rebel lady on her original single, Obsession. That was a few years ago, and I still love. that. jam. It is genius. I waited and waited, and I didn’t hear much more from dear Ms. Ferreira until this past month. Her newest single, 24 Hours, showed up on iTunes Free Single of the Week. Needless to say, Apple got me again. I bought her new album after hearing this gem, and then convinced my bestie that she needed some Sky in her life. She described Sky as reminiscent of early 80’s Madonna and Whitney Houston a la Dance With Somebody. Sometimes, my bestie is a genius.

I won’t try and convince you that Sky Ferreira is the greatest vocalist in recent history, or that her songs are incredibly groundbreaking lyrical gold. What I will say is that she creates fantastic dance-pop tunes with a dash of rock. Just enough to keep it interesting. If you are a child of the 80’s, give her a listen. My personal favorites include Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay)You’re Not the One, and I Blame Myself. Or take a listen to her original hit, Obsession. It’s seriously amazing, even if a little stalkerish.

New Music Monday

On September 30, three ridiculously good albums were released. Excellent for my iPod, not so great for my wallet. It was, however, completely worth it. On the same day, Haim released Days Are Gone, Lorde came out with Pure Heroine, and Justin Timberlake brought out The 20/20 Experience: 2 of 2.

I’ll start with Haim. These women are my idols. They are easily the coolest rock-and-roll chicks of the last decade, and they can play roughly five instruments a piece. The current single, The Wire, is the best pop-rock song I have heard in years. (Bonus points for putting a Lonely Island alum in the music video!) Between the strong lyrics, staccato guitar sections, and alternating vocals that switch between every talented sister, Days Are Gone is completely packed with hits. Personal favorites include My Song 5if you’re looking for a dark sounding, edgy rock song, or Days Are Gone for a lighter pop tune.

Next comes Lorde. I have discussed (at length, sorry!) my love for this girl. She is sixteen and completely annihilating the pop charts right now. In the land of Miley and her “wrecking ball”, admittedly selling sex and shock instead of pure talent, this girl is churning out high-quality lyrical beauty with simple vocals. No theatrics. No tricks. Just a girl, singing about what she knows. But even that is done better than her peers! Songs like Royals (the mega-hit that you must be living under a rock if you haven’t heard) expound on social class and materialism, while Ribs explores the fears of growing up and learning to take responsibility for yourself. Other personal favorites include Glory and Gore and Team. And, as a sidenote: go listen to Pentatonix’s version of Royals for a fresh take on the chart-topper.

Finally, we come to JT. The man. The myth. The beautiful, beautiful legend. I was a little scared about this album. I loved The 20/20 Experience: 1 of 2. Why would I need more? The answer? Because it’s JT and he just keeps getting better. Part 2 is the sexier, cooler older brother of Part 1. The songs are long because Timberlake admittedly “didn’t want to edit them.” I only noticed the length on one song. With cameos from Timbaland, Drake, and Jay-Z, and dirtier tracks that are meant to get you dancing, this album is truly special. Murder features Jay-Z, which is always a success in my book. True Blood has such a dark, sexy tint to it, that it’s impossible not to groove when the song comes on. Finally, Drink You Away just may be JT’s best song ever. Bold statement, but I’ll stand by it. 

justin-timberlake-20-20-experience-part-2

Bastille

I discovered Bastille through iTunes free single of the week, so, well played Apple. I downloaded Pompeii and was immediately in love. That single is so catchy and fun that I could not wait for more from this band. Luckily, Bad Blood was released not too long ago. This album is filled with anthemic goodness that is sure to tickle your eardrums. With  allusions to Greek mythology, Biblical references, and straight up historical facts sprinkled throughout, these London-based rockers created an above average album. They are brought down a bit on slow ballads, as the lead singers voice can get a bit thin without the tribal drums to back him up, but the record is mostly filled with their real strength. Upbeat, driven pop-rock gems.

Personally, I love Flaws, a song about opening yourself up to someone for the first time. I also really enjoy Icarus, where that Greek mythology comes into play, and, of course, the one that hooked me, Pompeii. 

On a sidenote, I pre-ordered Lorde’s Pure Heroine and Haim’s Days Are GoneSeptember 30 cannot get here fast enough.

bastille_2

Queen

Ok. I know that talking about how ridiculously amazing Queen is is probably the most obvious statement in the world, but it’s still a fact. Plus, I just spent 20 hours in the car driving from Kansas to Florida, and I listened to a whole lot of Freddie Mercury between the two states. The simple truth is, Freddie Mercury is the greatest performer to have ever lived. He had undeniable stage presence, and I will forever be heartbroken that I never had the chance to see him live. Today’s artists, like Adam Lambert, are still trying to copy and capture some of his magic, but it can’t be done. You simply can’t top an original.

My roommate will tell you that my favorite Queen song is Somebody to Love, and, I will admit it is one of my top three. There is something so infectious about that jam. I just adore it. (On a sidenote, I was actually offended when I found out she had never heard that song before we lived together and immediately corrected that situation.) I would have to say, however, that Don’t Stop Me Now is my all-time favorite Queen song, if I am forced to pick. It is so uplifting and joyful, not to mention you can really dance to it. Bohemian Rhapsody will always hold a special place in my heart, since my college friends and I used to sing it EVERY night we went out, (with spoon microphones and air guitars, of course) and We Will Rock You is the greatest pump-up pre-game song of all time. Finally, Bicycle Race is a fast-paced and often unloved Queen jam that is simply fantastic, especially if you are a cycling fan.

Queen changed the face and sound of music. Every one knows their songs and every one loves their music. Between the musical based on their repertoire (We Will Rock You out of London. See it if you get the chance!), Glee reworking some of their classic hits, and other artists trying to remix greatness, I have three versions of all their greatest hits on my iPod. And yet, the Queen versions are far and away the most often played. After all, you can’t touch perfection.

Bruno Mars

So a lot happened at the MTV VMAs last night. Justin Timberlake put on the world’s most ridiculous performance, proving himself as the President of Pop. NSYNC reunited. (Which is second only to Destiny’s Child reuniting in terms of my excitement level. Come on. We all know those ladies crushed the boys.) And Miley and Robin Thicke had the weirdest, most sexually uncomfortable act I’ve ever seen. Don’t get me wrong, Miley was completely off her rocker crazy in that, but can we not forget that Robin Thicke is a grown man with a wife and child? Come on, dude. Make better decisions.

However, the highlight for me was actually the reminder of just how well Bruno Mars can sing! Seriously, it is insane how much vocal control he has every single time he performs. I’ll admit, Gorillas is not my favorite song. I like something a little more subtle in my lyrics, but the straight singing was phenomenal. It is easy to forget how much I enjoy Bruno because his songs get so overplayed on the radio, and you eventually begin to hate them with a passion. Don’t let that happen to you! They are actually amazing little pop gems. They should be considering Bruno started his career writing hits for everyone else.

I decided to list a few of my favorites that have not been on heavy radio rotation. Give them a try if you love Bruno’s style but are tired of Locked Out of Heaven and Grenade. From Doo-Wops and Hooligans, I personally love Runaway Baby. It is on every workout mix I’ve ever made, and the beat just drives and drives straight through to the end. I also love Talking to the Moon, an ode to a lost love that is quite beautiful. Count On Me is the most adorable bestie song to ever be created, so throw that on and call up every friend you know. From Unorthodox JukeboxNatalie is hands-down the sickest revenge song I have ever heard. It’s a tiny bit twisted, but you kind of forget once the beat kicks in. Show Me is great if you wanna slow it down and grind a little bit, and Treasure has such a fantastic 70’s vibe with the horns that it is probably my all-time Bruno favorite. I’m really hoping the radio doesn’t kill that one for me, but the odds are not in my favor.

Bruno Mars