I’ve started each year’s top albums list when a preface about how people don’t listen to albums anymore. That statement is still true, but if the big names of 2013 didn’t make you immerse yourself in at least one artist’s vision for a full length album then you might have an issue. Just look at these names that mostly surprised us with new material: Arcade Fire, Daft Punk, Vampire Weekend, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Drake, Pusha T, Lady Gaga, R. Kelly, Justin Timberlake, David Bowie, Paul McCartney and of course, Beyonce. Still no Detox, but you get my point. Gigantic acts, from genres far and wide decided 2013 was their year to get back in the game. While not all of these established money makers lived up to they hype, there was plenty of music to talk about. Where some of the big names faltered, newcomers like Disclosure, Lorde, Kacey Musgraves, HAIM, Earl Sweatshirt and Bombino showed there is hope for music fans and created brands of their own. Will 2013 be looked back upon as one of the best years in music? I don’t know about that, but it did show acts like Broken Bells, OutKast, Bruce Springsteen and hell, maybe even Dr. Dre, that expectations will be even higher in 2014.
As usual, my top albums of 2013 are based on my own opinions, listening sessions, mood and biases. I encourage you discuss, agree, disagree and call me out in the comments. The only true disclaimer is that all of these albums were released (not leaked) in 2013. There has to be some sort of parameter to these rankings, right? Otherwise, my late admiration for Tame Impala’s 2012 album Lonerism would have probably vied for the number one spot. Enjoy!
The Weekend-Kissland (Spotify, Amazon)
The darker hues of The Weeknd’s past work may have received some shine since he chose an alliance with Drake over internet anonymity. However, that doesn’t mean Abel Tesfaye has ceased his dalliances in urges of the night. Ladies & drugs (“The Professional”, “Belong To The World”), vanity (“Live For”) and self deprecation (“Wanderlust”) still affect the budding star with lusher productions.
Lorde-Pure Heroine (Spotify, Amazon)
“Royals” was one of the biggest songs in the world throughout 2013, but don’t discount the rest of Lorde’s debut album. Pure Heroine is overflowing with soon-to-be (and previous) hits thanks to the excellent The Love Club EP. Lorde’s pop wit and songwriting ability was a welcome break from the Miley/Lady Gaga freak shows of 2013. Blog favorites “Tennis Court” and “Team” aligned nicely with other choice tracks like “Glory and Gone” and “Buzzcut Season”.
Pretty Lights – A Color Map Of The Sun (Spotify, PLMusic)
I’d previously been a Pretty Lights fan, but never truly embraced his albums (all free btw) from front to back. That all changed as I struggled to find music that could help me during my first semester of grad school. Derek Smith’s concoction of hip-hop, electronic and jazz music excelled with a balance mix of reflective, slow grooves (“Yellow Bird”, “So Bright”) and danceable bangers (“Let’s Get Busy”, “Around The Block”).
The Shouting Matches-Grownass Man (Spotify, Amazon)
Justin Vernon proved again he can do what he damn well pleases with his second side project of 2013, The Shouting Matches. The three piece outfit with Phil Cook and Brian Moen put together a very enjoyable debut that balanced blues (“Heaven Knows”, “Three Dollar Bill”), southern rock (“Avery Hill”, “Seven Sisters”) and even gospel (“New Theme”).
Danny Brown-Old (Spotify, Amazon)
Detroit’s most eccentric rapper Danny Brown has always interested me, but I haven’t connected to much of his work. As separately leaked singles, there weren’t many tracks that made me itching to listen to Old. Thanks to his manic personality, the entire album works as a complete trip into the mind of Danny Brown. Brown jumps from cartoonish (“Red 2 Go”) to repentant (“Clean Up”, “Float On”) to stone cold killer (“Kush Coma”). The pairings of Brown with Freddie Gibbs (“The Return”) and Schoolboy Q (“Dope Fiend Rental”) are grimy as expected, but cuts like the Purity Ring featured “25 Bucks” and “Side A [Old]” show off a more playful side. Brown even pulls back on his Adderall-inspired pitch to likeable effect (“Lonely”).
Omar Souleyman-Wenu Wenu (Spotify, Amazon)
Thanks to NPR, Hype Machine, social media, etc., I’m rarely surprised when I pick up new types of music. However, if you had told me I’d classify an album of dabke (aka Arab folk dance music) as one of my top albums of 2013, I might slap you. The combination of Omar Souleyman’s wedding singer vocal presence (in Arabic, of course) and production by Four Tet’s Kieran Hebdan proved to be the prefect combo for my ear drums. The title track and “Khattaba” are the most danceable, but all 7 cuts are all reasons to expand your musical horizons.