Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Best Albums of 2013

2013 was a particularly good year for music, and the 100 full-length albums (no EPs) on this list are a reflection of that.  They include a diversity of music ranging from old-style soul to Swedish dance-pop, and generally feature alternative rock, R&B/soul, indie rock, and inventive pop music.  I also tend to like music that is up-front, rather than hidden by layers of production.

I have  numbered and described the top 50 and listed the others as “Honorable Mention.”  The numbering is somewhat random, because on any given day, I might want to hear one album ahead of any other, and each of the “Honorable Mention” albums could easily have made the top 50. 

Here is my list in ascending order:

50.          Gin Wigmore, Gravel & Wine

This New Zealand-based singer-songwriter sounds something like a higher-energy Amy Winehouse.  This is her second album, and includes “Black Sheep,” “Devil in Me,” and “Dirty Love.”

49.          The Dear Hunter, Migrant

Casey Crescenzo, formerly of The Receiving End of Sirens, founded this Providence-based band, which released this, their first album, that blends a range of musical styles with Crescenzo’s expressive vocals.  Songs include “Whisper,” “Shame,” and “Old Demons.”

48.          Amel Larrieux, Ice Cream Everyday

I’ve always like the luscious sound of this Manhattan-based, jazz-infused vocalist, but it’s been six years since her last full-length album.  However, she picks up right where she left off with songs including “Afraid,” “You Don’t See Me,” and “Don’t Let Me Down.”

47.          Capital Cities, In a Tidal Wave of Mystery

The first album from this Los Angeles-based band displays their potential as an interesting blend of pop and techno musicianship.  Songs include “Safe and Sound,” “Kangaroo Court,” and “Chasing You.”

46.          Kings of Leon, Mechanical Bull

Consistently one of the better American bands in terms of their songwriting and musicianship, this Nashville-based quartet consists of three brothers and a cousin—all named Followill.  This is their sixth album, and it includes “Supersoaker,” “Beautiful War,” and “Wait for Me.”

45.          The Sounds, Weekend

This Swedish band often makes my “Best Of” lists because of their infectious pop-rock.  This, their fifth album, continues that trend with songs like “Shake Shake Shake,” “Hurt the Ones I Love,” and “Great Day.”

44.          Kelela, Cut 4 Me

Kelela Mizanekristos is a Maryland-based artist who specializes in moody, base-driven songs that create a lush, enveloping sound.  This, her debut album, features songs including “Do It Again,” and “Bank Head.”

43.          New Politics, A Bad Girl In Harlem

This Danish trio moved to Brooklyn before releasing this, their second album.  The songs, combining a post-punk sound with dance rhythms, include “Tonight You’re Perfect,” “Harlem,” and “Give Me Hope.”

42.          Disclosure, Settle

Guy and Howard Lawrence comprise the English electronic duo known as Disclosure.  On this, their first full-length album, they have enlisted the support of a number of vocalists to produce a very listenable and danceable set of songs including “Latch” and “You and Me.”

41.          RJD2, More Is Than Isn't

Philadelphia-based Ramble John Krohn performs under the name RJD2.  A prolific producer, both for himself and others, he has released nine studio albums since 2002, and this one is a gem, combining a wide range of musical styles, occasional vocalists, and inventive uses of instruments—both real and synthetic.  Songs include “Temperamental,” “Her Majesty's Socialist Request,” and “Descended from Myth.”

40.          Lissie, Back to Forever

Elisabeth Corrin Maurus from Illinois performs under the stage name, Lissie.  Her music is hard to categorize other than to say her songs combine terrific tunes and lyrics with memorable themes.  Those songs include “Further Away” and “I Bet On You.”

39.          Katy Perry, Prism

It’s easy to focus on the public persona of Katy Perry (born Katheryn Elizabeth "Katy" Hudson), as well as her romantic attachments (the latest is John Mayer), while forgetting that she has produced some very good music, including this, her fourth album, which features songs like “Unconditionally,” “Dark Horse,” and “Roar.”

38.          The Front Bottoms, Talon of the Hawk

This New Jersey-based indie-rock band is essentially Brian Sella and Mathew Uychich.  Their music is smart and their lyrics are interesting, while containing enough bite to keep them in the rock genre.  Their fourth album contains songs including “Au Revoir,” “Skeleton,” “Twin Size Mattress,” and “Funny You Should Ask.”

37.          Makua Rothman, Sound Wave

Best known as one of the top professional surfers from Hawaii, Makua Rothman has morphed into a very good singer-songwriter, and this album combines Reggae sounds with island beats on songs like “Lovely” and “One Voice.”

36.          Kait Kerrigan & Brian Lowdermilk, Kerrigan-Lowdermilk Live

I rarely include live albums on my “Best Of” lists, but this is a chance to hear one of the best songwriting teams in modern musical theater performing some of their best songs with excellent vocalists.   Those songs include “Hand in Hand,” “Run Away,” “Sadie,” and “Shut Up and Listen.”

35.          Matt Hires, This World Won't Last Forever, But Tonight We Can Pretend

Tampa-based singer-songwriter Matt Hires has put together an excellent album worthy of repeated listenings, including “Forever,” “The Sound of Falling in Love,” and “All That’s Left Is You.”

34.          Chrisette Michele, Better

New York-based Chrisette Michele consistently produces some of the best R&B available today.  Her fourth album is another example of her outstanding vocal prowess.  Songs include “A Couple of Forevers,” “Better,” “Love in the Afternoon,” and “With Love.”

33.          Jillette Johnson, Water in a Whale

As far as I’m concerned, Jillette Johnson is at her best by herself at the piano.  But she also offers songs of other styles and instruments on her outstanding debut album, including “Torpedo,” “Cameron,” and Pauvre Coeur.”

32.          Rudimental, Home

On the debut album from this British electronic quartet, they enlisted the help of some of today’s top artists, including John Newman, Foxes, Emili Sande, and Alex Clare, and the result is a set of terrific songs such as “Feel the Love,” “Not Giving In,” “Right Here,” and “Free.”

31.          Superchunk, I Hate Music

This North Carolina-based quartet has been recording infectious, high-energy, pop-rock for more than 20 years, but this is my favorite of their albums, for its timeless rock riffs on songs like “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo,” “Low F,” and “FOH.”

30.          Forever the Sickest Kids, J.A.C.K.

This Texas-based post-punk band has put together their best set of songs yet on their third album.  You will definitely be tapping your toes to these songs, including “Chin Up Kid,” “Nice to Meet You,” “Count on Me,” and “Rebel.”

29.          Michael Franti & Spearhead, All People

When I think of Michael Franti & Spearhead, I start humming their delightful melodies and singing Franti’s meaningful lyrics.  This, their eighth studio album, is in keeping with their other work, and I’ve been humming/singing, since it was released.  Songs include “I’m Alive,” “Life is Better With You,” and “Let it Go.”

28.          Generationals, Heza

This New Orleans-based duo of Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer previously founded The Eames Era.  This, their third album, presents an upbeat brand of pop-rock, with songs including “Spinoza,” “Put a Light On,” and “Awake.”

27.          Charli XCX, True Romance

21-year-old Charlotte Emma Aitchison performs under the name Charli XCX, and she has already had an impact on modern electronic dance-pop, between her two solo albums and her work with other groups such as Icona Pop.  This outstanding album includes “You (Ha Ha Ha),” Set Me Free (Feel My Pain),” and “What I Like.”

26.          The Strokes, Comedown Machine

In five albums, this New York-based quintet, led by Julian Casablancas, has established itself as one of the best and most consistent bands in modern music.  Their tunes are inventive and very well played, and Casablancas’s signature vocals are immediately recognizable.  This album includes “Tap Out,” “One Way Trigger,” and “Chances.”

25.          Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob

Since 1999, the Quin twins of Calgary have been producing excellent music, while adapting different styles and approaches to keep them on the cutting edge of the recording industry.  This album is another fine offering by this outstanding duo, and it features “Closer,” “I Was a Fool,” and “How Come You Don't Want Me.”

24.          Christina Grimmie, With Love

New Jersey-based Christina Grimmie combines a lush voice with superb piano skills on this, her first full album, comprised of songs that she wrote.  This is a very talented young (19 years old) woman with a bright future ahead of her.  If you want to get in on the ground floor of a promising career, this is the album for you, featuring “With Love,” “Feelin’ Good,” and “My Anthem.”

23.          The So So Glos, Blowout

This Brooklyn-based rock quartet has released four albums, and this is by far the best.  Officially, their music is listed as “punk,” but don’t allow that label to undermine the musicianship they demonstrate on this album, with songs like “Lost Weekend,” “Wrecking Ball,” and “Speakeasy.”

22.          Elton John, The Diving Board

The Diving Board is the 31st studio album by Elton John.  Written with long-term collaborator Bernie Taupin and produced by T-Bone Burnett, it is his best work in a very long time, displaying a sensitivity and musical prowess that has been missing from Elton John’s more recent work, with songs like “Oceans Away,” “Home Again,” and “Mexican Vacation.”

21.          Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Lickety Split

Robert Randolph, from Florida, is best known for his work on the pedal steel guitar, and his band displays a joy of making music that is missing in a lot of recent corporate-produced recordings.  His brand of funk is powerful and fun, and he is assisted on this album by several musicians including Carlos Santana.  Songs include “Amped Up,” “Brand New Wayo,” and the classic “Good Lovin’.”

20.          Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time

21-year-old Sky Ferreira is both beautiful and talented, and she displays both (see the full album cover—not the iTunes version) on this spectacular debut album.  This is a very good collection of rock-tinged songs including “24 Hours,” “I Blame Myself,” “You’re Not the One,” and “Love in Stereo.”

19.          Paramore, Paramore

Paramore is one of my favorite bands, and the Tennessee-based trio continues to record rock music of the highest quality.  Although this is their fourth album, it is the first with an eponymous title, and as usual, Hayley Williams vocals are powerful and pure.  This is a very good album by one of America’s best modern rock bands.  Songs include “Grow Up,” “Still Into You,” and “Hate To See Your Heart Break.”

18.          CHVRCHES, The Bones of What You Believe

In their debut album, this Scottish synth-pop trio combines catchy tunes, lively hooks, indie-style vocals, and electronic beats to come up with one of the year’s most entertaining set of songs, including “The Mother We Share,” “Lies,” and “Strong Hand.”

17.          Janelle Monáe, The Electric Lady

Known for her striking looks, outrageous outfits, and consistently good music, Atlanta-based Janelle Monáe has become a true presence in the modern music scene, and the outstanding soul-tinged tunes on this album warrant the attention they are receiving.  Those songs include “Electric Lady,” “PrimeTime,” and “Dance Apocalyptic.”

16.          Clairy Browne & The Bangin' Rackettes, Baby Caught the Bus

I just love the music produced by this nine-piece Australian band, which combines 60s soul with modern production techniques to produce a toe-tapping, sing-along style of music that dares you to avoid dancing, or just moving in your chair as you listen.  Songs include “Love Letter,” “She Plays Up to You,” and “Walk of Shame.”

15.          Daft Punk, Random Access Memories

French electronic duo Daft Punk is so iconic that LCD Soundsystem released a song in 2005 named “Daft Punk is Playing at My House.”  On this, their fourth album, not only is the music better than ever, but they have enlisted the help of some of the best vocalists recording today, including Pharrell Williams and Julian Casablancas.  Aside from the megahit, “Get Lucky,” songs on this album include “Instant Crush,” “Fragments of Time,” and “Doin’ it Right.”

14.          Lucius, Wildewoman

The debut album from this Brooklyn-based quintet is breathtaking in the depth and lushness of its sound.  Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig met at Boston’s Berklee School of music, and the band they founded is just a joy to hear.  Songs include “Turn it Around,” “Tempest,” and “How Loud Your Heart Gets.”

13.          Set It Off, Cinematics

I’m not sure how to describe the debut album from this Tampa-based band.  Do you call it post punk? Prog rock? Symphonic rock?  I just call it a great collection of wonderful songs of which I can’t seem to get enough.  Those songs include “Nightmare,” “Partners in Crime,” and “Kill the Lights.”

12.          Lorde, Pure Heroine

If you slept through the year or never listen to music, maybe you missed the megahit, “Royals,” but everyone else has taken notice of 17-year-old Lorde (nee Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O'Connor), and we have been wowed by the songwriting and vocal prowess of this lovely young New Zealander.  Songs include “Royals” and “Team.”

11.          Brendan Benson, You Were Right

Brendan Benson’s influence on modern music is undeniable, whether through his six excellent solo albums or his work with the Mood Elevator and the Raconteurs.  This Michigan-based artist just makes good music, and this album is no exception.  Songs include “It’s Your Choice” and “I Don't Wanna See You Anymore.”

10.          Haim, Days Are Gone

The three Haim sisters (Este, Danielle, and Alana), with drummer Dash Hutton, have combined make one of the most listenable albums of 2013.  Combining folk-rock style vocals with R&B-influenced rock music, this Los Angeles-based band has released a debut album that demands attention as well as repeated listenings.  Songs include “Falling,” “Forever,” and “The Wire.”

9.            Zedd, Clarity

Anton Zaslavski, better known as Zedd, has been producing electronic albums since 2009, but the remarkably successful “Clarity” is his debut album, bringing together different styles of music and outstanding musicians and singers to perform the songs, which include “Spectrum” (featuring Matthew Koma), “Stay the Night” (featuring Hayley Williams), and the title song, “Clarity” (featuring Foxes), which Zedd has remixed in several different ways.  This is a terrific electro-pop album.

8.            Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You

This Virginia-based singer-songwriter first achieved success with the New Pornographers, but with each of her three recent solo studio albums, she has increased her range and versatility.  This may be her best effort to date, but it merely portends the heights that this wonderful artist might reach.  Songs include “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu,” “Night Still Comes,” and “Man.”

7.            Editors, The Weight of Your Love

This British alternative rock band was founded in 2002, but finally settled on the name “Editors” in 2005, and have released four albums since.  They are musically excellent with darkly expressive vocals and melodically complex tunes, and this album is an superb example of their many talents with songs including “A Ton of Love,” “The Weight,” The Sting,” and “Formaldehyde.”

6.            Icona Pop, THIS IS... ICONA POP

The Swedish duo of Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo, on their first full-length album, produce techno-dance-pop that is well-produced, infectious, and thoroughly enjoyable.  I might consider it a guilty pleasure, but there’s no way I can listen to this album without tapping my toes and singing along with lyrics like “You’re so damned hard to please, we gotta kill this switch, you’re from the seventies, but I’m a nineties bitch.”  Songs include “All Night,” “I Love It,” and “Girlfriend.”

5.            Ariana Grande, Yours Truly

At the age of 20, this Boca Raton-based singer has already appeared on Broadway (in “13”) and released this debut album that demonstrates her remarkably clear voice and unlimited potential.  It might be easy to discount her as just another pop artist, but this is a young woman of substance about whom and from whom we’ll be hearing for years to come.  Songs include “The Way,” “Better Left Unsaid,” and “Almost Is Never Enough.”

4.            BOY, Mutual Friends

The Swiss/German duo of Valeska Steiner and bassist Sonja Glass (aka BOY) released this debut album in Germany in 2011, but the US release waited until 2013.  The album draws its influences from anti-folk and indie-rock.  The music is substantive, the lyrics are interesting, and the vocals are clear and eminently listenable.  Songs include “Waitress,” “Little Numbers,” and “Skin.”

3.            Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City

New York-based Vampire Weekend has released this, their third album, and once again demonstrated why they are one of the very best bands recording today.  With each album, they increase their range and musical capabilities, while always providing high-quality songs and musicianship.  This album demands repeated listenings, with songs including “Unbelievers,” “Step,” and “Diane Young.”

2.            Arcade Fire, Reflektor

It’s hard to heap enough praise on Arcade Fire.  Each of their four albums is among the very best music available in the given year.  They combine complex compositions with amazing musicianship and thought-provoking lyrics.  If you want to know what modern rock music should be, look no further than Arcade Fire.  Songs on this album include “Reflektor,” “Here Comes The Night Time,” and “Afterlife.”

1.            Beyoncé, BEYONCÉ

As 2013 reached its close in mid-December, Beyoncé shocked the recording industry by releasing this album through online outlets without any previous hype or promotion.  It is clearly the most personal and reflective work to date from the woman who may be the most talented triple-threat artist on the planet—and every song on the album has a corresponding video.  With the production help of husband Jay Z, Beyoncé has used this album to trace her life and career so far, starting with recorded introductions from her already-successful youth through her recent motherhood of Blue Ivy Carter, who is also featured on the song, “Blue.”  Other featured artists include Jay Z, Drake, and Frank Ocean, and while the songs may be less dance-oriented than previous releases, they generally demonstrate a depth and lushness that have previously eluded this multi-platinum artist.  Songs include “Pretty Hurts,” “Blow,” “Superpower,” and the sadly beautiful “Heaven.”


The following are all excellent albums that deserve Honorable Mention (listed alphabetically by artist):

·                     Alkaline Trio, My Shame Is True

·                     Alter Bridge, Fortress

·                     Andrew Cedermark, Home Life

·                     Barenaked Ladies, Grinning Streak

·                     Ben Rector, The Walking in Between

·                     Beth Hart, Bang Bang Boom Boom

·                     Biffy Clyro, Opposites

·                     Bobby McFerrin & Esperanza Spalding, Spirityouall

·                     Brett Dennen, Smoke and Mirrors

·                     Brown Bird, Fits of Reason

·                     Caitlin Rose, The Stand-In

·                     Camera Obscura, Desire Lines

·                     City and Colour, The Hurry and the Harm

·                     Darling Parade, Battle Scars & Broken Hearts

·                     David Bowie, The Next Day

·                     David Garza, Human Tattoo

·                     Device, Device

·                     Echosmith, Talking Dreams

·                     Elvis Costello & The Roots, Wise Up Ghost

·                     Eric Clapton, Old Sock

·                     The Fratellis, We Need Medicine

·                     Hands Like Houses, Unimagine

·                     Hellogoodbye, Everything Is Debatable

·                     Icon for Hire, Icon for Hire

·                     India.Arie, SongVersation

·                     Jake Bugg, Jake Bugg

·                     James Blake, Overgrown

·                     Jamie Cullum, Momentum

·                     Joe Bonamassa & Beth Hart, Seesaw

·                     Miley Cyrus, Bangerz

·                     Mixtapes, Ordinary Silence

·                     MS MR, Secondhand Rapture

·                     Natalia Kills, Trouble

·                     The National, Trouble Will Find Me

·                     of Montreal, Lousy With Sylvianbriar

·                     OneRepublic, Native

·                     Parquet Courts, Light Up Gold

·                     Queen V, The Decade of Queen V

·                     Queens of the Stone Age, …Like Clockwork

·                     Relient K, Collapsible Lung

·                     Rilo Kiley, Rkives

·                     Sara Bareilles, The Blessed Unrest

·                     Sleigh Bells, Bitter Rivals

·                     Telekinesis, Dormarion

·                     Train, California 37: Mermaids of Alcatraz

·                     The Uncluded, Hokey Fright

·                     Wallpaper., Ricky Reed Is Real

·                     Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt

·                     Wheeler Brothers, Gold Boots Glitter

·                     3OH!3, Omens