Best of 2013 Albums
The following are albums I think that define, embrace, and reinvent music for 2013. Some of these are my favorite bands and there's definitely a debut album on here too. Music was loud and proud for 2013, and I do try to avoid the pop 40 for these hubs because as much as I love pop, it is the fast food of the music industry. Enjoy the following! May your life be blessed.
10. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Mosquito
Who doesn't love Karen O? This is a solid rock album with an enriched tenacity from the band members. Mosquito has some of the best bass lines of the 2013 year. I love that this album rocks hard and then has a gospel choir in the background. Karen O is bringing back the true heartbeat of rock in roll back, this has a feel like huge hair waving bands of the past + Queen. It's rock and roll that makes me want to get up and dance and through my fists in the air. It's music that I think should be on the next Quentin Tarantino flick. It's a driving, flashy parade filled with aggressive, lion-like femininity... I guess masculinity too.
9. M.I.A. - Matangi
M.I.A. is not for the faint of heart. The real, true woman in the industry who is actually outspoken and dangerous is M.I.A., not Lady Gaga or Miley Cyrus -- they're just performance and that's okay if you only want vanilla cake. This woman boldly went to challenge Saudi Arabia, one of the most fierce countries when it comes to having backward ways into women's rights, and this cool lady had women driving and challenging the laws by showing women taking boldness and being the colorful trendsetters they can be. Her team of video makers brought a human side to a group of people that has not been reached, and the stunts on the cars in the Bad Girls video are mind blowing, especially for a pop star -- she clearly doesn't whine about broken nails.
This album is rough and mixes traditions found more in India, the Middle East, and mixes it with some of the rap narratives we're more familiar with in the west. It's a changing scene kind of album that's both gritty and also humanitarian. It's more complex than it looks on the surface, but there's a much needed space for it in the music industry.
8. Katie Melua - Ketevan
You don't always need to be the firecracker leading dynamite, the delicate flower with a voice as smooth as chocolate can be beautifully imaginative. I am sad that Katie's album hasn't reached and marketed to such volumes as other albums, because this is gold. Katie been getting more experience from doing a documentary at the bottom of an oil rig to working with symphonies. Her music is becoming more and more romantic and endearing. She has a way of captivating emotion to make it whelp inside of you. She has strong vocals, that I'm not sure why they're not popular in the States. She crescendos, she has a unique vibrato, and this album shows a woman maturing into a fine beauty. Some of these songs have such great echo it almost sounds like it was recorded in a cave. Her like many of the other albums on this list show a consistent deep, contorted beat in the background whether from drums, bass, or guitar. I'm not sure what's causing this push for more earth and hard of sounds, but I'm enjoying it. There will probably be more to come of this since many of the people delivering this music are on the edge rather than what's on mainstream radio. Melua revives jazz and many traditions that haven't been seen since the 40s.
7. Arcade Fire - Reflektor
Yet another band on this list that impresses me. The diverse musicians step it up by mixing funk to their folk. Arcade Fire is always a few steps ahead on music trends. This is the year for songs to come back in a 70s style, to throw in a few French sayings, and to give us groovy driving worthy tunes. Arcade Fire is one of the most solid bands delivering album after album of decadence. I think they stepped up their game here to create something new and bold that other bands would struggle to imitate. I think they've transcended themselves mixing all kinds of genres from disco to beach pop to psychedelic to folk. It's inventive, imaginative, and childlike at times. This is an excellent blend of electric and folk traditions coming together to show how technology can reinvent our expectations on music.
6. Sigur Rós - Kveikur
Most of us do not understand a word of what Sigur Rós is saying, but it doesn't matter. They're soothing songs have on more than one listen healed my questionable thoughts and soul. This album takes a deeper, darker more transcendental approach. It's hauntingly delicious, exotic and foreign, pressing and dire. They're music is setting the stage in Iceland and European music that's fitting for the colder settings that I, as an American, find romantic. This album hits more of an alternative rock feel than previous editions; the voice quality in comparison to Daft Punk is softer, echoing, where that other band has a reminiscent 70s feel. It's impressive that both these albums came out this year showing how various the art world of music can be. I've always found this band to be imaginative, and I feel like they've really hit a stride here that has a strong metaphor for the soul and who we are all reaching to be in our existence. At times it feels more like a soundtrack and at other times a lonely, ballad.
5. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
Daft Punk went into hiding for about 8 years and then came back with an album meant for the hidden Gods of the 70s. All the creative work that went into this album is insane from the extensive recording innovations to all the people who collaborated on from music genius after music genius that I have no idea who they are because it's an elite world that's untouchable for me. If you got tired of "Get Lucky" you are not me, because every time that song came on the radio I turned it on full blast as I weaved past cars. This album is hardcore in trying to create better sound for our ears. Back in May, it was the talk of the town from blog to blog trying to explain to people how awesome the album is to those who didn't quite connect to it. My hope is that they'll make another feature length animated film off their work because that's initially what caught my attention for Daft Punk to begin with. This French duo who is rarely seen without their helmets, has created something here that most artists envy in a heartbeat.
4. Janelle Monáe - The Electric Lady
Every song this woman makes is to the walls brilliant. I am feel like she's about five to ten years too early, but she is the bourgeoisie of music in this current era. Her songs are a delightful rendition of jazz, R&B, gospel, funk, and rap. She's committed to her, serious, and also completely free and daring. Her albums are questioning and reinventing perceptions on femininity for a more positive portrait of the woman. This is one of the most complex, sophisticated albums of the season. Q.U.E.E.N. is one of the best thought provoking music videos of the year, and is unfortunately for the most part unknown. I love this woman and how she's a driving force for something new; she's wild to dance, express herself, and can't be held down by a mold. Her music can be operatic, underground, strong, and soulful. I honestly think she should be a household name. Unfortunately, I think her sophistication is too much for pop radio, but she is a pure gem. Her word choices and pronunciations show a strong, commanding woman and the mix of 1940s, 50s, and present makes for an electrifying album that takes us back to he past, reminding us who we are and is a forerunner for the music to come of future generations. It's deep, serious, and at times silly. I love it.
3. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
This band is one of the best I have ever seen. You need to see them before they break or before you die. They are just as good on their records as they are live. I think it's that they have so many in their band and that they care about people so much that their songs broom with confidence. It's like gospel music hit folk, country, hymns, indie music, and everything in between. This is music you want playing at your funeral and on your deathbed because it's so full of soul, joy, and excitement. Edward Sharpe has a way of really understanding the soul of music, of being able to combine several instruments and voices together in harmony. It's not just about the lead singer, but the whole band. It's a beautiful portrait of love, reminiscent of the 70s, and has a variety of toe tapping songs to near ballads. Edward Sharpe and his Zeros are an experience that shatters this world of materialism. I actually genuinely believes this band cares about what they are doing and are trying to make this a better place.
2. MGMT - MGMT
The psychedelic band that hails at hippie parties, hipster parties, and everything underground has been silent for three years. They've come back with a darker, dare I say more mature album. It's not quite the sunshine-beach anthems of the previous albums, it's more mind bending, clouding identity, and free-spirited. Some of what's on this album is pure confidence because not every note, every sound is meant to be in a perfect shape. It's grittier, more shadowy, and intense. The previous albums felt more like daytime music, these tracks seem more for the night. I think they've fully embraced the psychedelic sounding reminiscent of the cult video game Earthbound. I think this album will find it's way in cult followings and will be there for true fans as more psychedelic explorations will be taken and brought to the mainstream. (For example, take a look at some of the work that's coming out for the upcoming Ke$ha + Flaming Lips album.)
This album fits the ambiguity, the apathy, and introspection hitting the Millennial generation. This album may not be as big as previous ones, but I think it'll crawl into being a bigger deal over the years.
1. Lorde - Pure Heroine
Lorde came out of nowhere this year, a sixteen year old from New Zealand. She started her career by making tracks off Garage Band. I think her music is the zeitgeist of 2013. The debut album is nominated for Best Pop Album at the Grammys. She mixes dream pop with great lyrical hooks. It comes off authentic and pokes fun at some of the pointless tropes that have been in the music industry like, "I'm tired of being told to put my hands in the air." Who comes up with these kind of lyrics at 16? I would call this the absolute most perfect minimalist album. Her songs are catchy, these not too much in the background but her voice carries and harmonizes well with herself. It's the hybrid that meets both Top 40 lists and the world of independent radio, and she hails from New Zealand rather than the States or U.K.
It's a cleverly smart album; Buzzcut Season and Royals are anthems of 2013 hands down. In a world where we have such scripted and perfected pop music overblown with too much tart, this authentic 16 year old is mind blowing. I expect that over the years she will be one of the biggest names if she wants to be.
According to the woman herself:
"The goal for me is to make a body of work that is cohesive, that feels like an album and is something that I'm going to be proud of. I'm working on an album at the moment and it seems a lot of albums lately don’t feel like a cohesive set of songs that complement each other and mean something as a group. If I can make something which does feel like that, and feels right and true and good, then I will have succeeded."
© 2013 Andrea Lawrence