2013 was an interesting year in music for me. There were tons of big releases, and quite a few from some of my favourite artists. Oddly enough, though, hardly any of the albums released really impressed me. I spent a good portion of the year listening to the same few albums on repeat (which are highlighted later on), and the other half listening to a new release once or twice and then quickly pulling it from my iPod’s rotation again.
So after such a hit-and-miss year of music for me, it was a bit hard to culminate a top 10 list, and I sat on it for several weeks before finishing up (hence this article being published two weeks into 2014, rather than two weeks before the end of ’13, as I planned it).
But here you have it, my top ten list of the best albums released in 2013. In descending order:
Okay, I know you are going to judge me for this one, but hear me out:Bangerz was actually a pretty good pop music album. Though Cyrus’ recent media shenanigans have failed to impress me, I’ll admit to actually enjoying a handful of the songs on Bangerz (particuarly the title track which features a duet with pop music royalty, Britney Spears). Cyrus isn’t the best singer, songwriter, or musician, but she (or more likely, her handlers) has found a niche in creating catchy, irresistable pop music.
Not sure about buying the whole album? Download This First: “SMS (Bangerz)”, “We Can’t Stop”, “Wrecking Ball”
I would’ve loved a new Radiohead album this year, but alas, we can’t always get what we want. Instead, Thom Yorke gifted us with the debut album from his side project, Atoms For Peace. The band (also made up of Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead’s long-time producer, Nigel Godrich, REM’s Joey Waronker, and instrumentalist, Mauro Refosco) released a collection of lush electronic numbers, that while not entirely different from the music Yorke/Radhiohead have been releasing over the years, was still very enjoyable
Download This: “Judge, Jury and Executioner”, “Ingenue”
8. Janelle Monáe, ‘The Electric Lady’
I’ve been a fan of Janelle Monáe from the moment I heard her debut album, The ArchAndroid. I love Monáe’s unique style; her blend of rock, pop, jazz, R&B, and classical music is stunning, as is her voice. Her follow-up album, The Electric Lady, uses the same winning formula that her debut did, with an electrifying mix of catchy pop tunes, epic duets with Prince, Miguel and Erykah Badu, and dazzling MoTown-esque ballads.
Download This: “Q.U.E.E.N.”, “PrimeTime”, “Dance Apocalyptic”
It pains me to put a new release from my favourite singer, John Mayer, so low on the list, but I have to be honest: Paradise Valley wasn’t Mayer’s best release. Don’t get me wrong: nothing on the album wasbad (well, the duet with Katy Perry still isn’t my favourite), but the country-western-lite tracks mostly felt like a follow-up to Mayer’s (much better) 2012 release, Born and Raised. Even though Mayer is my favourite artist, and I can’t really “complain” about getting new music from him, I have to admit that only two or three of the eleven tracks really stood out and the rest sort of fizzled, amounting to a wholly mediocre release.
Download This: “Wildfire”, “Badge and Gun”
Full review here.
I don’t really think of myself as a Daft Punk fan, but I was riveted by their fourth studio album, Random Access Memories. I listened to “Get Lucky” on repeat way more times than I’m willing to admit (there’s just something about that chorus and Pharell’s sexy falsetto that I love), but the whole album (which is currently nominated for six Grammys) is filled with plenty of funk-soul-pop-techno dance tracks.
Download This: “Lose Yourself To Dance”, “Get Lucky”, “Doin’ It Right”
Now, I know I just said the same thing about Daft Punk, but I really have never described myself as a fan of Beyoncé or her music. It’s not that I dislike her- it’s just that her brand of R&B dance anthems and ballads has never quite impressed me. However, I had to change that opinion with her last album, 4 (which was one of my top picks of 2011), and I’ve had to further readjust my thinking upon listening to her newest self-titled record.
Though Beyoncé was released at the very end of 2013 (Beyoncé shocked her fans by dropping the album on iTunes one night, with no prior annoucement or promotion), it quickly became one of my favourite albums of the year. The album is filled with sexy dance songs, sultry ballads, and duets with Drake, Frank Ocean, and Jay-Z. Oh, and she released seventeen music videos to go with the album…no big deal.
Download This: “Drunk in Love”, “Partition”, “Flawless”, “Rocket”
Now, my Justin Timberlake loving days go way back to when I was a pre-teen and in love with *NSYNC, and I’ve been pretty much following his career since then. Naturally, I rushed to buy his third studio album,The 20/20 Experience, when it was released earlier in 2013, and I wasn’t the least bit disappointed.
The album is highlighted by Timberlake’s trademark falsetto, stellar production from Timberlake and Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon, catchy dance songs, silky ballads, and some of the most memorable hooks of the year (try getting that hook from “Tunnel Vision” out of your head). The album was released in two parts, with The 20/20 Experience: Part 2, being pushed out in late September. I’m rating them as one whole album, though, because Part 2 certainly wasn’t as strong an effort as Part 1, but still managed to hold some of my favourite tracks.
2013 was a great year for Timberlake, and I think he’s truly cemented himself as one of the princes of pop.
Download This: “Pusher Love Girl”, “Suit & Tie”, “Tunnel Vision”, “Mirrors”, “Drink You Away”
I’ve been waiting for a new Jamie Cullum album for four years, so of course I was excited when he dropped his sixth studio album,Momentum, in mid-2013. The first thing I noticed, however, is that Cullum had dropped his signature modern jazz sound for something more polished and commercial, much to the chagrin of many of his long time fans.
I can’t say I was one of the naysayers; sure, Cullum’s sound is a lot more radio-friendly, but that’s not always a bad thing. And though I can’t say that Momentum is my favourite release from Mr. Cullum (that distinction likely belongs to 2009’s The Pursuit), the album is still a great one. Cullum’s original songs are still fun, cleverly written and perfectly sung, and he even does an exquisite (and barely recognizable) cover version of “Pure Imagination”.
Cullum may have deviated, but he definitely does not disappoint.
Download This: “Pure Imagination”, “Sad, Sad World”, “Save Yourself”, “Unison”*, “Comes Love”*
*these songs are only available through the limited edition iTunes release.
I never thought I’d be saying this, but I miss the Twilight movies. Not because the films were good- because they were truly terrible- but because I miss the awesome soundtracks each of them had. The soundtracks were always chock-full of indie-rock/pop goodness, and I honestly do miss those compilations. Thankfully, it looks as though The Hunger Games franchise is picking up where Twilight left off and really delivering in the soundtrack department.
Catching Fire was not only a brilliant movie (possibly my favourite movie of the year, or at least tied with Gravity), but the soundtrack is just as awesome. Featuring new songs from Coldplay (the Grammy-nominated “Atlas”), Of Monster and Men, Sia, Lorde, The Weeknd and The National, the disc is another stellar collection of some of the best singer-songwriters in the business right now.
I wasn’t really expecting anything from the soundtrack when I picked it up, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised and spent much of the latter half of 2013 listening to repeatedly.
Download This: “Atlas”, “Silhouettes”, “Elastic Heart”, “Devil May Cry”, “Mirror”, “Shooting Arrows At The Sky”
How predictable of me, right? Kanye West got so much publicity in 2013, that I’m almost ashamed to put this at number one on my list, for fear of seeming like I’m just going along with the crowd. But let’s get real: Yeezus was a fantastic album, and I loved it from first listen.
I’ve followed Kanye’s career for several years now and I was definitely excited to get my hands on Yeezus the moment it came out last year. The sound is another big departure for him; Daft Punk produces two songs, his raps are angry and dark, and the production is probably the most unpolished in his catalogue. But the appealing thing about Yeezus (and about Kanye West, in general) is that there are no apologizes given- the album is what it is, and the message, though hard to stomach at times, is exactly what Kanye wants us to hear, and if you don’t like it, too bad. The in-your-face sound of the music goes along perfectly with irate lyrics in songs like “Black Skinhead”, and you know when Kanye raps, “Soon as they like you, make ’em unlike you…” in “I Am A God” that he truly means it.
But what I love about this album isn’t just Kanye’s attitude, it’s the actual songs he managed to produce. On the surface, “I Am A God” is just a blasphemous novelty song, but it’s really a powerful statement about being strong, and it’s put to a fierce beat, no less. Songs like “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves” feature gritty production, and controversial social commentary, with one-liners I couldn’t get out of my head long after listening to the album. And if you can forget about the ridiculous music video for “Bound 2”, it’s actually a pretty decent throwback track.
All in all, Yeezus was my favourite album of 2013, for the music, the message, and Kanye’s fearlessness to write music that’s not going to make everyone happy. We need more people in the music business who are unafraid to push buttons, and better yet, push them with a good beat in the background.
Download This: “Black Skinhead”, “I Am A God”, “New Slaves”, “I’m In It”, “Blood On The Leaves”, “Bound 2”