When looking back at 2013, it’s easy to say that it was crappy year for music… because it kind of was.
Well, it was and it wasn’t.
Let me rephrase — it was a crappy year for some of the big artists with unimaginable expectations attached to them, but it was a good year for the newer/smaller acts with nothing to lose. The biggest losers were Katy Perry, Britney Spears, and Lady GaGa leading the pack with some of the worst albums (despite having strong lead-off singles), whereas acts like Bastille, Lorde, and James Blake enjoyed the rave reviews.
We can’t recap the year without mentioning some of the low points; Robin Thicke’s vaguely rapey ‘Blurred Lines’ and the whole mess that is Miley Cyrus – possibly the most annoying pop creation since… well, ever. Kayne wouldn’t stop talking smack about how the world is against him (even though someone should really smack him) and Taylor wouldn’t stop writing songs about break-ups (even though someone should really smack her). And we continued to be obsessed with dissecting whether Lady GaGa is a total genius or a complete hack. We’re sticking with complete hack. David Bowie did the whole hands-glued-to-the-tits outfit in 1973. A nod isn’t a work of genius, its regurgitation.
And then of course, there was Beyoncé. She wasn’t here and then she was and we got excited but then she went away again. Then all of a sudden she was… EVERYWHERE. Literally. And she’s a grown woman now. (Side note: Bey, we knew this already so you can put away the butt crack and risqué lyrics now because that’s not the definition of feminism no matter how hard you want it to be.)
So anyway, enough vitriol. Here is our list of the top albums from the top artists we think made the best contributions to music in 2013.
33.) Beyoncé – ‘Grown Woman’ (from BEYONCÉ) – We’re picking this only because Mrs. Carter made a massive impact with her album this year, whether you liked the album or not. The way it was released and the mixed-media approach was pure brilliance and for the first time in a long time, got listeners to buy (and listen) to the entire album on a massive scale without question.
32.) The High Highs – ‘Flowers Bloom’ (from Open Season) – We first heard The High Highs in a movie and immediately looked them up. Then we bought the album. And then we proceeded to listen to it non-stop. The Aussie trio has created a soft, ambient alternative album that barely gets out of first gear, but that’s okay because it’s a perfect set of tracks for a lazy summer day.
31.) Yuna – ‘Falling’ (from Nocturnal) – Oh Yuna, she is just so lovely. And underrated. Her second proper album came out under the radar and is just as lovely as her debut.
30.) Bastille – ‘Pompeii’ (from All This Bad Blood) – Wow, we were late to the party on these guys, but in the last part of the year, they have become a favorite. So dark and complicated. We are fans.
29.) Natalia Kills – ‘Saturday Night’ (from Trouble) – We took massive issue with Kills when she debuted, as we felt everything about her was disingenuous and just south of pop perfection. But wow, did she prove us wrong with her second album, Trouble. She shed the ‘persona’ and just banged out some incredible tracks – ‘Saturday Night’ being one of them. Ka-boom.
28.) Washed Out – ‘All I Know’ (from Paracosm) – This was the best chillout album of the year. Period. Paracosm is perfect summer driving music, from start to finish.
27.) Agnes Obel – ‘The Curse’ (from Aventine) – Not heard of Agnes Obel? That’s your first problem. Simple, haunting, massive talent – these are the words her music conjures up. Her second album Aventine is so lovely it hurts.
26.) John Newman – ‘Losing Sleep’ (from Tribute) – Soulful wunderkind Newman, has been cultivating anticipation since before this solo album was even a glimmer. Rudimental spent a good deal of time building him up as the next big thing, and although he’s not as big a cultural phenomenon as say Amy Winehouse was, Newman has certainly made an impression this year with his driving, husky vocals and tortured songs of love and betrayal.
25.) Lissie – ‘Further Away (Romance Police)’ (from Back to Forever) – Wow. Want something that reminds you of the power that Stevie Nicks brought with ‘Edge of Seventeen’? Gritty power vocals over driving drums and guitars – that’s ‘Further Away (Romance Police)’. The album on the whole is a lovely, fragile, edge-of-country sophomore release from a promising new voice.
24.) Strange Talk – ‘Climbing Walls’ (from Cast Away) – How many more good things can we say about Strange Talk? Oh, and guess what – they’re from Australia, too. January 2011 was when we first heard ‘Climbing Walls’ and we still absolutely love it. Thankfully in 2013, they released their full album, Cast Away, which was just as good as we thought it would be. Big things to come from these guys.
23.) Lorde – ‘Royals’ (from Pure Heroine) – Another dark horse surprise, 17-year-old New Zealander Lorde made the charts with her hit ‘Royals’. The album is solid. Here’s hoping this isn’t veering into one-hit-wonderland…
22.) Foals – ‘Late Night’ (from Holy Fire) – Artsy, difficult, oblique, precocious, intelligent, volatile, mathletic — these are words that NME used to describe the Foals, and we quite agree. Holy Fire was the surprise favorite this year. We picked it up on a whim and couldn’t stop listening to its massive precision.
21.) V V Brown – ‘The Apple’ (from Samson and Delilah) – V V Brown returned after a bit of a tumultuous time away with a dark, incredibly concept-driven album of artistic proportions. Leaving behind her indie-pop debut and a scrapped second album, Brown reincarnated as a high-fashion, high-art, high-concept songstress. And although we miss the old V V, we’re actually a fan of the new one, too.
20.) Frankmusik – ‘Fast As I Can’ (from Between) – Oh Frankmusik, we’re so happy that you’re back to your proper roots. To show our gratitude, we’re plonking Between on our best-of list because ‘Fast As You Can’ is a KILLER track. Running shoes on, running shoes on, running shoes on – our favorite part! Keep it up – we’re keenly anticipating your new album in 2014!
19.) Sky Ferreira – ‘You’re Not the One’ (from Night Time My Time) – One of the emerging vocalists that enjoyed the rave reviews this year, Ferreira is a dark pop enigma with her model cheekbones and vacant stare, but her music is so addicting that it keeps us intrigued. ‘You’re Not the One’ is just such a good song; we’re frankly shocked it came from this little pop waif. But who cares, the majority of the album is definitely worthy of the list.
18.) The Strokes – ‘Welcome to Japan’ (from Comedown Machine) – The originators of the garage rock hipster movement, The Strokes returned in 2013 with Comedown Machine – a solid collection of songs that remind us of why they were such a pivotal band at the turn of the century. Solid effort boys, well done.
17.) Margaret Berger – ‘Feed You My Love’ (from New Religion) – Okay, so we’re fudging this a little because her full album hasn’t come out yet, but we can’t help it… this song is bona fide FIRE. Berger represented Norway on this year’s Eurovision and although she finished in 4th place, she walked away as our favorite performer. ‘Feed You My Love’ is dark, twisted and totally brilliant, evoking the sounds of Bjork and Robyn. Her third album, New Religion is on our hotly anticipated list for 2014.
16.) Bibio – ‘À tout à l’heure’ (from Silver Wilkinson) – Oh Bibio, you’re so lovely. And this album is as well. That is all.
15.) Laura Mvula – ‘Green Garden’ (from Sing to the Moon) – We saw Mvula open for Jessie Ware earlier in the year and we were immediately struck by her soulfulness and style. Definitely have love for this debut artist; ‘Green Garden’ was our song of the summer.
14.) Katy B – ‘What Love Is Made Of’ (from the EP) – Katy B, you’re so excellent! We weren’t expecting to like you so much, but we do! We totally do. Heavy dance house beats and all, we’re very much looking forward to your second album due in early 2014.
13.) AlunaGeorge – Your Drums, Your Love’ (from Body Music) – Ambitious, futuristic pop music, sophisticated and alluring, AlunaGeorge is one of 2013’s most intriguing debuts. The album from start to finish is devoid of any missteps – a completely solid collection. Wow, just wow.
12.) Phantogram – ‘Black Out Days’ (from Phantogram EP) – Okay, okay, we’re fudging this one, too. But we love Phantogram and their return this year with their new single was a welcomed addition to our list. Their album (which will probably make our 2014 best-of list) is out in February.
11.) Disclosure / London Grammar – ‘Help Me Lose My Mind’ (from Settle and If You Wait) – So, we’re holding this place as a tie, because we’re huge fans of both Disclosure AND of London Grammar. And their collaboration is our pick for best song from both acts.
10.) Jessie Ware – ‘Imagine It Was Us’ (from Devotion) – Jessie’s debut made our best-of list for 2012, so we’re thrilled to include it again in 2013. When we saw her here in England, she debuted a new song as more of a laugh, but it ended up becoming a single, and with that, she reissued her album. And we continue to applaud its amazingness. #JessieWareForever
9.) Solange – ‘Lovers in the Parking Lot’ (from True EP) – The lesser-known and frankly more talented Knowles sister. Solange brings the hipster realness with her hold-over EP, True. This was technically pressed in 2012, but she dropped the video for ‘Lovers…’ out of nowhere this past summer, and we were once again reminded of her underrated R&B brilliance. Her full album due in 2014 is definitely one we’re going to wait around for.
8.) Woodkid – ‘I Love You’ (from The Golden Age) – One of the most visually and musically stunning artists to come around this year. Golden Age is sweeping sonic brilliance.
7.) Arcade Fire – ‘Reflektor’ (from Reflektor) – Yeah, this is pretty much a given. We love Arcade Fire and we love Reflektor.
6.) HAIM – ‘The Wire’ (from Days Are Gone) – Three sisters from Los Angeles that can sing. Go figure. Folk-rock with a few R&B/hip-hop stylings thrown in for good measure – that is really all you need to know. And a string of hits leading up to their debut album. A fresh, intelligent sound from start to finish.
5.) David Bowie – ‘Where Are We Now?’ (from The Next Day) – Oh hey there David Bowie. Not had an album in over 10 years? Just drop this little gem on us out of nowhere. Thank you.
4.) MKS – ‘Flatline’ (from TBD) – Well, it happened. And it’s just as amazing as we expected/hoped/prayed for. Mutya, Keisha, and Siobhan got it together and recorded an album, which is due in 2014. Christened ‘The Origibabes’ by their fans, the newly reformed MKS delivered a honking new single and whole year of live performances. And it’s all been incredible. But give us the album now. We’re real greedy for more.
3.) Justin Timberlake – ‘TKO’ (from The 20/20 Experience: Part 2) – Not one but two albums, which probably could have been condensed into one incredible classic, to be honest. Nonetheless, what Mr. Timberlake gave us this year was pretty stellar – ‘TKO’ being one of his best tracks, ever.
2.) Goldfrapp – ‘Drew’ (from Tales of Us) – Whatever they record, we will love. Even the stuff that’s not so great, it’s still on another level so high in the stratosphere that it’s still pretty much amazing. Tales of Us is nowhere near mediocre, it’s practically perfect. Seeing them live in London was the year’s highlight as well. Laser show and all…
…and in the top spot:
1.) James Blake – ‘Overgrown’ (from Overgrown) – This is really a no-brainer. We were completely blown over by James Blake and his second album, Overgrown. A very tight, precise collection of songs that showcase this young man’s phenomenal talent as a vocalist, musician, and producer. This is 2013’s essential album.
So. There you have it — our annual faves. If you want to enjoy this mix, check out our published playlist on Spotify by clicking here.
Now, back to the trenches to deliberate 2014’s hottest new artists…
P.s. After some serious consideration since pressing ‘Publish’, we’ve decided to add ONE more album to this list:
Honorable Mention – Janelle Monáe – ‘Primetime’ (from Electric Lady) – Over the course of compiling our list, we listened to this album repeatedly, but for some reason held back. Then we pressed ‘Publish’ and immediately felt that we had made the gravest mistake. Janelle Monáe is gifted and amazing and any fool would include Electric Lady in their year’s ‘Best of…’ list. She’s continually fresh and sassy, musically challenging, and purely cosmic.
And God only knows what’s going on in her brilliant little mind…
So there, NOW we’re done.