Danice's Favourite Albums from 2013
Albums are my favourite, so I had the most fun compiling this list. As much as possible, I've linked the album art to places where you can stream the album so that you can give the albums a listen yourselves. Hopefully you've had time to scroll through and listen to my top 13 songs of 2013, and if you have, you can probably make a few educated guesses about what my favourite albums of the year might have been. Let's see how close you were.
Although the (almost) title track is a stand-out for me, this whole album hangs together so brilliantly. I have no trouble admitting that one of my favourite things about Laura Marling is the way she reminds me of Joni Mitchell. And I love Joni. Once I Was An Eagle is instrumentally minimalist, with mostly just vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar and some dark cello and soft drums, adding to the sense of its vulnerability. Sometimes it feels like the instruments are playing in the distance, but Marling is half-whispering in my ear, singing me these short narratives about moving on in life in the midst of our fears and uncertainties. It's beautiful, and I have a feeling I'll be returning to this little song cycle frequently in the future.
I realized that I had to include this album when I was considering about 4 songs as favourite tracks of the year - Dianne Young, Yeah Hey, Unbelievers, and Hannah Hunt. But actually, by themselves these songs are not half as fun as just putting on all of Modern Vampires... which maintains the tight, upbeat pop music that we've come to appreciate from Vampire Weekend.
Named after the Hindu Goddess of the same name, this album is most certainly M.I.A.'s most spiritual album to date. It's true that my favourite tracks from Matangi are the two that were released long before the album came out, and also the two that sound most like they could have been on an earlier album (Bad Girls & Bring tha Noize). Still, the other tracks bring both a more gentle approach (Come Walk With Me & Sexodus), while still responding to ludicrous pop culture phenomenons, specifically when turning Y.O.L.O. into a reincarnation anthem, Y.A.L.A. ("You Always Live Again"). The truth is, M.I.A. can do almost no wrong in my eyes, and even if Matangi was not everything I was hoping for, it still was one of my favourite records of the year.
Although even Jay Z himself will admit that this is not his best work ever, it was still one of my favourite things to listen to this year. The first three tracks alone are enough to make the album unforgettable, and On the Run (Part II) is my favourite collaboration with Beyonce to date - even more than Crazy in Love, even more than Drunk in Love. One of only two albums I bought without a pre-listen, and it was definitely worth it. (The second was his wife's). If you have no prior experience with Magna Carta, I recommend starting with this video:
If nothing else, John Legend is consistent in his smooth sexy music making, and Kanye producing only amplifies these strengths. I have listened to Love in the Future in its fullness more easily than any other John Legend solo album. (I qualified that with "solo" because I am a huge fan of his collaboration album with The Roots, evidenced here). This album is classic, romantic R&B with no interruptions. My favourite moments are his cover of Bobby Caldwell's Open Your Eyes, and the beautiful, piano-heavy All of Me, but in its entirety, Love in the Future has everything to make someone fall head over feet in love. At very least, with Legend himself.
So far, here's my least mainstream album on the list. A solo album from Dev Hynes, the writer/producer who gave Solange the sounds I liked best on her True EP last year. Today I read that Dev Hynes' apartment had a fire and he lost all of his stuff, including his cat named Cupid, who I can only assume the album is named after. So, all of this to say, we should probably all help him out and buy the album. It's really chill and good, I promise. Also, this outfit in this video.
This was the sound of the summer of 2013, and that sound was a perfectly blended mix of old and new school dance music. Disco is alive and well, and it is brought to you by futuristic robots/a couple French guys. "Get Lucky" was one of the biggest tracks of the year, but it's not the only solid thing on the album. There are certainly some strange hiccups, such as Touch, which feels like a musical solo that didn't make the cut. But as a complete LP, RAM makes for a great soundtrack for just about anything. I recommend meal preparation, exercise or a road-trip.
There is a reason this album sold more than any other in 2013. It's massively appealing to both fans of new pop and golden-era soul purists. The best parts are all of the horns and strings in every song, and the seamless transitions from one part of a song to the next. Nearly every track on the album is more than 7 minutes long, which sometimes seems a bit excessive, but mostly I think JT just has so many great ideas for each song that the normal 3-4 minute format is far too restrictive. Maybe his next album (and yes, I would like to just pretend that Part II never happened) will be one continuous track, simply transitioning from one musical theme to the next. I'd be down.
This lovely human being is my favourite new artist of 2013. If I were to make this list based 100% on my iTunes plays count, this would be my second most listened-to album of 2013 (after only the second album on this list). I still cannot get enough of her clean vocals with moments of full choral backup, jazzy instrumentals, and syncopated rhythms. It certainly helps that she makes beautiful music videos as well. Oh look, here's one now!
I was waiting, anticipating this one like no other in 2013, and it thankfully did not disappoint. I have been following Monae for a while now - the Archandroid was my favourite album of 2010 - and to be honest, I was really hoping The Electric Lady would be a sort of coming-out record for her. It was the next best thing. Chock full of queer anthems, this album is devoted to proudly being yourself. On top of it, the record holds together far more cohesively than her last. Janelle Monae seems to have settled into a new kind of soul, instead of trying to prove herself in every imaginable genre. I love every collaboration here - I mean, she has definitely worked with the right people: Prince, Erykah Badu, Miguel, Solange, Esperanza Spalding all make unforgettable appearances. As I'm writing this, I'm considering moving it up to a higher spot. Here's a video of her reaction after 106&Park premiered her brilliant video for Q.U.E.E.N.
I actually was not a fan the first time I heard the title track, Reflektor. Luckily, when SNL extended their programming one night to include nearly the whole album, my PVR kept recording, and I was drawn in. For me, Arcade Fire has never made a better album than their first, Funeral. But in their move away from their original anthemic feel and sound, I am amazed that this is the same band, exploring new soundscapes. I have always really appreciated Arcade Fire's ability to explore serious, sad and dark themes while maintaining a genuinely fun aesthetic - whether it makes you want to sing along, or simply nod your head.
This is actually what I listened to more than any other full album in 2013. Like a majority of the artists in this list, on top of pairing thoughtful, honest lyrics with really fly, catchy hooks, he's a fantastic performer. He just may be Jay Z in his lifetime because, like Hov, he looks like he's having the time of his frickin' life on stage. Meanwhile, he is quite possibly the best lyricist in the game right now. I am somewhat regretting not putting my favourite song of the album on my top 13 of the year list, so here it is now:
Ok, so I know it's only been a week, but there is no way that this album could place anywhere but number 1. It's such a game changer - and that's without even watching/listening to it. Honestly, a part of me thought that the fact that 4 was an incredible album was a bit of a fluke. I wasn't expecting this. I mean, yeah, no one was, but I really wasn't expecting a whole album from Beyonce that I would love. And I got it. For every minor album disappointment of the year, Beyonce made up for it. With this album, Queen Bey has stepped into her place as pop royalty, and made her toughest, most in-your-face, honest, and vulnerable album to date. She practically made me forget about every other album that I just wrote about, and affirmed my decision to not compile this blog early. She also may have ruined all new music for me. Here's one of the few videos that has been released on youtube so far. It also happens to be one of my favourites... but then again, every song on that album is my favourite.