By WSN Arts Staff
Whether you’re into pop, rock, rap, or whatever, this year was an exciting one for music. Tweets were fired, tongues were flailed, new names appeared and old favorites returned. In music, the album has long been the unit of prestige. While its omnipotence may be waning, we’re all a little scared of change. Here are the albums that moved us most.
10. David Bowie, “The Next Day”
With his first new album in ten years, the thin white duke isn’t just rehashing the classics. “Changes” dilettantes will find less sticky pop than they’d like (though “Stars” has received decent play in British radio). Many describe the album as a whole as Bowie’s “twilight masterpiece,” comparable to the albums of past years that made him a critical favorite.
9. Daft Punk, “Random Access Memories”
Of course there’s “Get Lucky,” but the duo’s latest LP has plenty else to offer. Particularly notable were the eclectic collaborations. Not just Pharrell, but lesser known tracks with Julian Casablancas and Animal Collective’s Panda Bear. Standout track “Georgio By Morodier” showcased the band’s music history knowledge, and keen sense for references.
8. Lorde, “Pure Heroine”
Lorde knows what it is to be a popstar in 2013. A teenager herself, she has all the right tools. It’s hard to remember the last time we watched a celebrity in the music world with such a shrewd sense for internet politics and packaging. Where Azealia Banks wore out her welcome with tiresome jags, Lorde quips and is found charming. Her persona aside, the music is good. “Royals” is catchy as ever, and other standouts nip at its heels across the world’s charts (“Tennis Court,” anyone?)
7. Haim, “Days Are Gone”
When a band is described as “Fleetwood Mac meets En Vogue,” what are the chances they won’t be amazing? Haim’s album lived up to the early buzz. It’s no surprise — Haim’s sister band members are professionals. In the year’s most interesting new band narrative, listeners discovered the sisters have recorded together for years with past projects such as “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” soundtrack-featured band the Valli Girls.
6. Beyoncé, “Beyoncé”
Every pop star had already staked their claim in 2013. The Katycats had roared, the Little Monsters had screamed, the Britney Army had battled, Miley Cyrus’s stans had… done whatever it is they do. And then, just as the curtain fell, Bey stopped by to remind us all who it is that pays the bills. Since album leaks became the defacto rule, there has not been a stunt drop so significant and so seamless. As for the album itself — we’re talking “4” caliber at least, the kind of LP where any track could easily be your favorite. And that’s not even to mention the videos.
5. Drake, “Nothing Was the Same”
It wasn’t quite as gloomy and introspective as “Take Care,” but most were delighted that the Champagne Papi had no intention of shutting us out. The album has plenty of the intermittent machismo-cum-whining that made “Take Care” feel so voyeuristic. But it also featured the rapper’s best pure pop moment to date, the sweet and anthemic “Hold On We’re Going Home.”
4. Sky Ferreira, “Night Time, My Time”
Where 2013 was the year Beyoncé beat the pop divas at their own game, it was also the year Sky Ferreira tweaked their formula (to perfection). In songs Katy Perry tells us she aches to be a “muse” and Gaga won’t stop babbling about some dude from Nebraska, Ferreira made pop that’s different; it’s pop that finds liberation in being alone. The power choruses on “Night Time, My Time” aren’t just for moments in love but also reveling in post breakup freedom vis a vis “You’re Not the One.” Elsewhere, Ferreira told us all about herself, revealing everything from crippling self criticism (“I Blame Myself”) to her geeky Japanophilia (“Omanko”)
3. Arcade Fire, “Reflektor”
Dark and operatic as ever, for this go-around the group expanded on the sound they explored in the acclaimed “Suburbs” track “Sprawl II.” The disco is everywhere, and it’s a far cry from the lite party many expect from the genre. It’s an album for the darkest corners of the dancehall, where “Funeral” early adopters can mope about their uniquely tortured relationships.
2. Kanye West, “Yeezus”
It’s kind of amazing that, even in the clutches of people as ridiculous as the Kardashians, Kanye West still commands our consideration. Whether it’s debating the origin of “leather jogging pants” or something genuinely profound, people listen with rapt attention. Understandable, it’s all pretty amusing. “Yeezus” gave us great things too: that Billie Holiday sample, the superlative-of-superlatives “I am a God,” and “Bound 2,” which remains a total jam (though the video has made that easy to forget).
1. Vampire Weekend, “Modern Vampires of the City”
When your band’s sound can be described in epigrams (“Cape Town via Cambridge,” etc) you’re easily pigeonholed. Thankfully, Vampire Weekend proved to trigger happy music critics, once again, that they’re not the ones. Their third album was met with universal acclaim, especially over early standout “Step,” which featured an unexpected old school sample.