The masters of dance music returned to the throne, ‘Ye proclaimed himself a God (as if that’s surprising), a 16-year-old took pop music unexpectedly by storm, and JT made a highly anticipated comeback. These are the albums of the year, based on both critical reception (taking into account professional lists) and personal preference. I’m sure there were other albums that you think deserve to be on the list–but these are my top 10.
10. Justin Timberlake The 20/20 Experience-1 of 2 Timberlake made a comeback this year after not releasing a solo album in seven years. How did he make it up to his fans? By surprising us with not one, but two albums in one year. He called it The 20/20 Experience. This is “music you can see” exclaimed the pop artist. Bold? Maybe. But the first half of JT’s experience is a soulful return, the hit single “Mirrors” being a stand out track. If you can’t see the music, you can at least enjoy listening to it-and feel the romance. Best tracks: Pusher Love Girl, Mirrors
9. Childish Gambino because the internet It may have been released at the tail-end of the year, but that doesn’t make it unworthy. because the internet finds an often conflicted Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino, a man who probably owes his career to the very thing he seems to be condemning. The comedian’s troubled personality isn’t masked by one liners and punch lines this time around; he sounds genuinely irritated. But maybe the internet isn’t the problem at all. Childish sounds like he’s just scared about his future. He shouldn’t be. Best tracks: crawl, 3005
8. Vampire Weekend Modern Vampires of the City It’s hard to like Vampire Weekend, but it’s also hard to deny their talent. And taking into account their latest album, Modern Vampires of the City, they have a deep philosophy in their lyrics that’s hard to come by. Some may call it pretentious, and in a lot of ways it is; it’s depressing, moody, and likes to raise questions it doesn’t seem to have the answer to. But on the flip side, the album touches on aspects we all think about: faith, life, death, growing old, and what it all means. It all leads to a penultimate track that paints a picture of an apocalyptic time, and ends on a surprisingly uplifting note; no one ever said they had to have it all figured out, and it’s better because of it. Best tracks: Diane Young, Hannah Hunt
7. Disclosure Settle Much like Daft Punk, Disclosure is a dance-pop music duo; the band’s made up of brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence. What makes them different is that they’re young. At 22 and 19, the pair is making music that peers their own age will be dancing to in the clubs, and they’re triumphing in it. Daft Punk made a comeback in a year where dance-music was bigger than ever; these two are just getting started. Settle marks their debut studio album, and one can guess they won’t be slowing down; you won’t when listening to their music. The album is funky, poppy, catchy, and everything you’d want in a club playlist–and it’s done the right way. The smart way. Best tracks: When A Fire Starts to Burn, Latch
6. Drake Nothing Was The Same Drake’s third album is a more mature effort than his debut Thank Me Later and a more focused one than 2011’s Take Care. It may be hard to pinpoint what exactly changed for Drake–he went from TV heartthrob to one of the biggest rappers in the game–but if it compels him to make more records like this, then so be it. Granted, the Drake of old is still fully alive: he raps about failed flings and fame. But what’s changed is that he’s focused his craft, maybe mostly due to the fact he seems more aggressive. Just listen to “Worst Behavior.” A more aggressive Drake, you say? Don’t worry. He still has a soft side on “Hold On We’re Going Home.” Best tracks: The Language, Too Much
5. Arctic Monkeys AM The Arctic Monkeys’ latest is full of heartache, a mediation on a breakup and lost love. Even a song called “No. 1 Party Anthem” is a slow jam dedicated to finding the right time to strike up a conversation with that beautiful girl across the bar…that never happens. But underneath the substantial amount of sadness is an awfully relatable journey and a solid listen if you’re feeling like you miss that special someone. It may just take the pain away. There’s even a track about it (“Mad Sounds”). They may not make you want to get up and dance, but you’ll sit down and reflect, and it’s the rare kind of sound that can make you feel better about that. Best tracks: Do I Wanna Know?, No. 1 Party Anthem
4. Arcade Fire Reflektor Arcade Fire ruled the Grammys a couple years back with their superb album The Suburbs. Now they’re back, with an album that is completely different but no less fantastic. Reflektor is a product of the band’s Haitian roots and is split into two discs. It’s a 70-minute behemoth of rock-n-roll dance anthems on the first disc and a more emotional track listing on the second; “Afterlife” is especially powerful, maybe one of their most powerful. It’s an album that probably could have fit on one disc. But it’s Arcade Fire. They can do what they want. Best tracks: Afterlife, Supersymmetry
3. Lorde Pure Heroine Not many 16-year-olds can say they’ve ruled the pop charts. More importantly, not many if any can say they’ve done it with a classy edginess as graceful as Pure Heroine. Lorde unexpectedly came onto the scene with the dominating single “Royals,” a song that sticks the middle finger to an industry in which she is now rocking with a young sophistication that is rarely found. Her sound is both haunting and addicting, teenage angst masked by clear passion and a mature voice. No pop-music in 2013 was quite like it. Best tracks: Tennis Court, Team
2. Kanye West Yeezus Only someone like Kanye West would have the balls to call himself a God. But at this point, we’ve come to expect that sort of behavior from the rapper. But what we never expect is what he has in store for us next. Yeezus is the ultimate embodiment of the artist’s ego and rage, and the end result is a pulverizing album, beginning with a Daft Punk-produced electronic banger “On Sight” and ending with the awkwardly beautiful “Bound 2.” And everything in between is even better, especially the “Strange Fruit”-sampling “Blood on the Leaves.” Who knows what Kanye has in store for us next, but what we do know is that it won’t be anything like Yeezus. Best tracks: Black Skinhead, Blood on the Leaves
1. Daft Punk Random Access Memories At a time when electronic dance music is making its comeback, the time seemed perfect for Daft Punk to cut through the masses as well. The French duo infuses a seventies-style groove (which also seemed to be all the rage in 2013) with their dance jams that are equal parts catchy and moving on their latest album. Leave it to them to let the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas take the lead on “Instant Crush.” And while Daft Punk has always been innovative and imaginative, they prove they’re still fun with the song of the summer, “Get Lucky.” EDM may be the current fascination, but Daft Punk is the past, present and future. They’re a league of their own. Best tracks: Get Lucky, Instant Crush
Agree? Disagree? What’s your favorite music of 2013? Sound off in the comments below or follow me @traviesclark.
And stay tuned for the top 20 singles of the year, coming soon.