It’s hard to accuse 2013 of being boring. Kanye released the most adventurous album of his career, Miley Cyrus found an exciting new use for foam fingers, a previously unknown sixteen-year-old girl from New Zealand had one of the biggest songs of the year (read that sentence again), Jay-Z invented #newrules that made Samsung relevant for a couple minutes, streaming services like Spotify changed the way we listen to music, Chance The Rapper took a giant step in his inevitable journey to replace Kanye as the King of Chicago/The Universe when ‘Ye eventually quits rap for a career in medieval architecture and water bottle design, and just last week Beyoncé reminded everyone why she’s the queen by releasing a secret “visual album” without any nerdy bloggers like us finding out first. (Whew).
It wasn’t just about the story-lines, though. Not to get overly dramatic or anything, but this might’ve been the best year for pop music since my parents were getting stoned in their friend’s San Francisco basement listening to new Bob Dylan and Rolling Stones records. Seriously. This was the year we’ve been waiting for — the year your favorite blogger’s favorite artists actually broke out and saw mainstream exposure. Can you imagine rookies like Chance and Lorde seeing the success they saw in 2013 even just a few years ago? Independent artists like Macklemore have been waiting their entire careers for the industry to break open like it finally has. When you turned on your local pop radio station this year, you started to hear what was actually popular, not what fancy record label executives thought would sell. Those executives are outdated. People who keep up-to-date with music blogs and tell all their friends about talented new artists are who matter now. You get to decide what’s popular. Finally.
On that note, we’ve put together a list of our 20 favorite albums of 2013. The list is a compilation of each of our writers’ individual rankings (using some crazy sophisticated mad-scientist metric that Lydia came up with), which should give a pretty balanced perspective of the year’s best releases. Cheers!
20. Kate Nash, Girl Talk
(Have 10p Records/Fontana, March 2013)
Kate Nash is the kind of musician that brings a unique rawness to everything she does and her latest effort, Girl Talk, is no exception. Whether you love angsty Kate or sweet heartbroken Kate, it’s all relatable in the best way possible. Tracks such as “Fri-end?” and “Rap For Rejection” make you want to throw chairs around and give no care in the world, while “OMYGOD!” and “Are You There Sweetheart” make your heart somehow flutter. There may not be the typical piano-ridden pop as many may know her by in this album, but it’s made up for with something even more unique. It’s the perfect combination of genuine feeling with a dash of pure addictive catchiness. Girl Talk is as real as they get. – Alicia
The sun shines down on me / But I don’t get no vitamin D / The burgers are 2 for 1 / But I’m not having any fun / Yesterday a dolphin kissed me / But I just don’t feel no different – “OMYGOD!”
Favorite Song: OMYGOD!
19. Arctic Monkeys, AM
(Domino, September 2013)
Some bands continue to bring out albums yet never seem to live up to their previous work, then there’s Arctic Monkeys. I would lie if I said I wasn’t always skeptical about new AM work but they continue to take it up a notch to impress. AM is rock n roll with a sexy, smooth twist to it that is impossible to deny. There’s a bit of the classic Arctic Monkeys vibe yet has a new spice to it which happens to be (in my opinion) their best material yet. Besides, who doesn’t love a bit of dance worthy indie rock music in their lives, right? If you’re still pondering whether or not this is worth a listen, quit the games because this is one that you’ll never be able to put away. – Alicia
I dreamt about you near me every night this week / How many secrets can you keep’ / ‘Cause there’s this tune I found that makes me think of you somehow / When I play it on repeat / Until I fall asleep – “Do I Wanna Know?”
Favorite Song: Do I Wanna Know?
18. Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience
(RCA, March 2013)
I’m going to preface this with this: I was one of the biggest fans of N’Sync as a kid (I’m 21 now if you want to do the math); all I wanted to be was in a boy band and strut my stuff across a stage in front of thousands of appropriately aged females. As you can see, I’m a pretty big JT lover, so when news came of the new album, I screamed like a little girl. Now let’s focus on this so-called “20/20 Experience.” This album makes me feel like JT has taken me on a wild date (thus the experience), and these are the highlights of the night. As we begin with one of the standouts, “Pusher Love Girl,” JT decides to ask me out on a date because I was his cute, drug dealer from across the street. Once I say yes, JT gets on his suit and tie shit (…as do I, because I’m not a female). Because JT is different, we decide to skip dinner and go straight to the club. This is where I’m kinda nervous, and want to first talk to get to know him, but he convinces me to get off of the wall and dance.Things have gotten so hot and heavy, he ends up cracking and decides to tell me about his experiences with his ex, Jessica Biel, and how she’s like strawberry bubblegum. I proceed to tell him that he’s better than her, and now we’re feeling closer than ever as his surroundings have been eliminated and I’ve strategically made him only see me. As a result of that, we decide to grab a quick drunk bite to eat in a two seater booth. Probably somethings like Johnny Rockets because that sounds really good when drunk, but with every shot that he takes, the true feelings start to come out and he tells me how he’s in love with Jessica still. I proceed to take to him to my favorite club, and the groove gets in, and god damn, does it get in. It gets so in, that we head back to his pad, and watch Family Guy while eating the pizza that we ordered (this is the “Mirrors” part). “Blue Ocean Floor” is too out of place for me to use in my date scenario. To quickly sum up the experience, there are some truly standout moments, there are some Timbaland moments, and then there’s “Mirrors.” The 20/20 Experience was great, and I throughly enjoyed the time I had with JT, which is why this is one of our top albums of 2013. Who wouldn’t have fun on that date? – Jordan
And now it’s clear as this promise / That we’re making / Two reflections into one / Cause it’s like you’re my mirror / My mirror staring back at me. – “Mirrors”
Favorite Song: Mirrors
17. Tom Odell, Long Way Down
(Columbia, June 2013)
Twenty-three year old British singer-songwriter Tom Odell is quickly rising to fame in his home country, but has yet to gain much traction in America. But with the 2013 release of his album Long Way Down, it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world catches on to the musical talents of Odell. He creates sounds reminiscent of the late Jeff Buckley at times, complete with quivering vocals telling tales of love and loss. Beyond the beauty of the piano ballads, perhaps what’s most inviting about Long Way Down is the genuine stories weaved throughout it. Odell has admitted to writing his songs about his own failure to maintain a relationship for longer than six months, and these feelings come through in relatable lyrics throughout the album. Standout single “Another Love” highlights this best in its lyrics “and I’d sing a song that’d be just ours, but I sang ‘em all to another heart, and I wanna cry, I wanna learn to love, but all my tears have been used up on another love.” The album’s one downfall is the lack of diversity in its stories, but as Odell is given time to grow into himself, he’ll gain more life experiences under his belt and undoubtedly will have more attention-grabbing songs to write about them all. For now, we’ve got quite a treat in Long Way Down to hold onto. – Lydia
I watched the clouds walk / and I watched the rain become the sea / and just for a moment, just for a moment / I felt so free from all I’m supposed to be – “Supposed To Be”
Favorite Song: Another Love
16. Danny Brown, Old
(Fool’s Gold, Warner Bros., October 2013)
The media has a way with creating biases that are hard to look beyond. For rapper Danny Brown, he’s become the weird-ass rapper with crazy hair, a missing front tooth, and an obsession with molly. But rather than allow himself to get permanently pigeonholed, Danny Brown wrote Old, an album that built up this hilarious persona and also reminded the rest of the world of who Danny Brown is on the inside. The album is split up in two halves, the A-Side representing an introspective look at Danny’s personal history full of paranoia, depression, guilt about abandoning his family, and torturous memories of his past. The B-side of the album is more of the Danny Brown we’re used to seeing: simply put, it’s turnt up trap music. Though there are lyrical masterpieces that could easily be pointed out, the bigger win here is that Danny Brown was able to transform himself in the eyes of the public and create an album that catered to his two buckets of fans, the ones who missed the introspective rapper and demanded “that old Danny Brown,” and the ones who love Danny Brown for who he’s widely known to be: a pussy-eatin’, molly-poppin’ trapstar. – Lydia
Hotel rooms crushing pills and menus / daughter sending me messages saying “Daddy, I miss you” / but in this condition I don’t think she need to see me / ain’t slept in four days and I’m smelling like seaweed / problems in my past haunt my future and the present / escaping from reality got me missing my blessings / sent a couple G’s but that make it no better / and now I got habits that ain’t getting no better / and it ain’t that easy trying to get all together / been stressing so long think depression done settled – “Clean Up”
Favorite Songs: Clean Up, Lonely, Dip, Float On