Best Singles of 2013

2013 was an up-and-down year of both great and less than stellar music. To narrow it down to the best singles of the year is tough. The list is based on critical reception, personal preference and even popularity, as long as their was a solid (or addictingly controversial) enough reason for that popularity. Dance-music made waves, a modern pop-icon made a comeback, a 16-year-old took us all by surprise, and more. These are the best singles of the year.

15. Jay-Z feat. Rick Ross “Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit” Producers Vinylz, Boi-1da, and Timbland all lend a helping hand to this track, perfecting a hypnotic beat that Jay and Rick Ross both wanted on their albums. It ended up on Hov’s “Magna Carta” but don’t fuck with either of them.

14. The Lonely Island feat. Adam Levine & Kendrick LamarYOLO” An SNL digital short from the boys of Lonely Island, it twists the “battle cry of a generation” into n anthem for sheltering yourself from the dangers of the world. Hilarious, witty, and satirical in the best way.

13. Martin Garrix Animals” It was the year of dance music. Daft Punk, Disclosure, Krewella, and more bombarded dance clubs all over, and “Animals” is no different. It’s a song that cherishes the art of dropping the beat.

12. Big Sean feat. Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica “Control” While it’s Big Sean’s song (it was meant to appear on his “Hall of Fame” album but ended up being released as a promotional single instead), it’s Kendrick Lamar that truly kills it with one of the best rap verses of the year.

11. Disclosure “When A Fire Starts to Burn” As far as dance music go, it can’t get much simpler, and that’s the magic of this track off Disclosure’s debut “Settle.” What makes it even better is it’s hilariously fun music video.

10. Miley Cyrus “Wrecking Ball” Miley was the most talked about artist of the year. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up for you to decide. But once you get past the ridiculous twerking and other antics, Miley can actually sing. It’s only the absurdity of her music videos that overshadow that.

9. Eminem “Rap God” No one was really doubting Eminem’s rapping abilities, but now it’s hard to contest that he’s a rap god. Eminem takes the full 6 minutes of the song to cement that.

8. Drake feat. Majid Jordan “Hold On, We’re Going Home” It would have been easy to include Drake’s first single off “Nothing was the Same, “Started From the Bottom,” but “Hold On, We’re Going Home” is both expected and unexpected from the artist that Rolling Stone called “the people’s rapper.” It’s hard to argue with that listening to this 80s styled jam.

7. Lady Gaga feat. R. Kelly “Do What U Want” Gaga’s “Artpop” album may not have been received well by critics, but the stand out track, “Do What U Want,” is a standout single thanks to an assist from R. Kelly.

6. Arctic Monkeys “Do I Wanna Know” The lyrics and instrumental are mesmerizing. Just listen to it.

5. Lorde “Team” The hit single “Royals” shot 17 year old Lorde to super stardom this year, but it’s on “Team” that I felt her youthful (not quite) innocence. With lyrics like “I’m kinda over getting told to throw my hands up in the air” it’s hard to believe she’s so young. It’s even harder when you take into account how talented she is.

4. Arcade Fire “Afterlife” The best track off of Arcade Fire’s epic “Reflektor” is also one of their most powerful songs. “Afterlife”…it’s such an “awful word.” But it’s a fantastic song.

3. Kanye West “Blood on the Leaves” Only Kanye would be able to sample “Strange Fruit” so impressively.

2. Daft Punk feat. Pharrell & Nile Rodgers “Get Lucky” “Blurred Lines?” Forget that. This was the definite song of the summer, a groovy pop/dance-jam.

1. Justin Timberlake “Mirrors” JT made a comeback this year with “The 20/20 Experience” and the best song on those combined albums is absolutely “Mirrors.” And it’s best song of the year. Say what you want about JT’s “Experience” it’s hard to deny how good this song is, an epic pop love song that Timbaland’s production surprisingly heightens rather than burdens.

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Best Albums of 2013

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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. 

“The 20/20 Experience” Ablum Review

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The title of Justin Timberlake’s third studio album, and his first in nearly seven years, refers to clear vision. The pop-singer certainly has a clear vision in mind with his comeback album, one that is every bit as romantic as it is up-beat, and as retro as it is new. Timberlake pushes old-school R&B vibes while infusing modern stylistic tones, and it all comes together under the glorious production of his long-time collaborator Timbaland.

The album consists of just ten songs, but the majority exceed seven minutes in length. Timberlake has stated “”If Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin can do 10-minute songs and Queen can do 10-minute songs then why can’t we? We’ll figure out the radio edits later.” It’s this kind of thought process that drives the album. Timberlake is having fun experimenting here. Many of the songs take a turn in style at the mid-way point, but it works. Because of this, the album isn’t your average pop-album. Instead of a collection of radio-singles and dance-beats, it’s an experience, as the title suggests.

Some songs are more “sensual” than others, “Strawberry Bubblegum” and “Spaceship Coupe” being two examples. Others, such as “Tunnel Vision” (with its obvious Timbaland influence) and “Let the Groove Get In” are more poppy in nature, but still carry the unique flare that the album will come to be known for. “Suit and Tie,” the album’s first single, features the only guest artist on the album as Jay-Z puts down a nice verse in a song that embodies the classy night-life. The second single, “Mirrors,” is arguably the best song on the album, being an epic ode to that person in Timberlake’s life that makes it all worth while. Seeing as how he just married Jessica Biel last year, we’re hoping it’s her. The last song on the album, “Blue Ocean Floor,” is a beautiful yet trippy journey that acts as a sort of “cool down.” Sit back, relax, and enjoy.

During Timberlake’s hiatus, new pop-sensations have emerged that have taken the public by storm with modern, all-too-common interpretations of pop music (ahem, that other Justin guy). Leave it to Timberlake to come back with a statement and remind people why he’s so good. We probably won’t see another album from him for some time, but when he returns again he’ll come back with something just as addicting and unorthodox as “The 20/20 Experience.” We’ll be ready.

4.5/5

Music: Most Anticipated Albums of 2013

If the rumors are true, 2013 looks to be a good year for hip-hop and even some ’90s comebacks. Here’s my most anticipated albums of the year, in alphabetical order.

Arcade Fire-TBA I became a fan of Arcade Fire after listening to their last album, the Grammy-winning The Superbs from 2010. This year, the band is planning to release their fourth studio album. Could it mean more Grammy gold?

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Backstreet Boys-TBA Don’t judge me. I, along with most of the young population in the ’90s, loved the Backstreet Boys. Now the news is that their eighth studio album is being released this year and you better be fucking excited. To hell with One Direction.

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Big Sean-Hall of Fame Big Sean’s sophomore album is reportedly being released in February. His debut studio album was entertaining and proved he has what it takes. Now that he’s “finally famous,” I expect even bigger things from the Detroit rapper, especially with a name like Hall of Fame. The album has been confirmed to feature Kanye West, Common, Tyga, and Nas.

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Drake-TBA It seems like Drake catches a lot of shit, mainly due to the fact he coined the phrase “YOLO” which gave every frat boy and sorority slut across the nation further excuse to do stupid  things and forget they did them. But as someone who’s been a fan of Drake since Thank Me Later and has actually listened to his albums other than the radio singles released, I’m excited for his rumored third studio album, which we can expect to be different in style from Take Care.

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Eminem-TBA If the talk is true, we can expect Eminem to release a new album this year, his first solo project since 2010’s Recovery. He’s been featured on some songs and released a collaborative album with Royce da 5’9 since then but reports say he’s been hard at work in the studio putting together a new album. Let’s hope it’s true. One’s gotta wonder how different it will be from Recovery.

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J. Cole-Born Sinner J. Cole’s debut studio album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, proved the rapper is the real deal. His second album was scheduled for release on January 28 but has been pushed back to a later date. That means fans will have to wait a little longer, but if it means Cole makes the album as good as it possibly can be, then I’m all for it. The first single, “Miss America,” has already been released.

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Justin TimberlakeThe 20/20 Experience Timberlake will finally release his first solo album in nearly seven years later this year. In fact, JT just released the first single off the album, “Suit and Tie” featuring Jay-Z, and he’s brought sexy back again. Thank God.

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Kanye West-TBA Who knows if West will actually release an album this year, but rumors are that he’s been working on a solo album, his follow-up to 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I’ve even read he’ll be dabbling in a little dubstep. I wouldn’t count it out. West is known for experimenting. There’s even been talks of Cruel Winter, the sequel to G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Summer, being released sometime this year. Whatever the case, I hope we can expect some new material from Kanye.

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Music: The Best (and Worst) Singles of 2012

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These singles may not have been the “best” of the year in some cases, but hey, I can’t listen to every song in every genre, and quite frankly, I don’t really want to. I’m sure there were “better” songs out there than some of these. Hell, I know where were worse songs than the ones I picked. I’m not perfect, damn it. These are the “best” and “worst” songs of 2012. The songs that defined (or destroyed) the year, with a few personal favorites, too.

Top 10

10. Gotye feat. Kimbra-“Somebody That I Used To Know”-Remember this little gem? The “little song that could” of 2012, Gotye (Goat-yay? Goat-ee-eh? Got-ya?) reminded every teenage girl ever of that one friend or ex-boyfriend that isn’t in their life anymore. And if you can make all of them post your song lyrics to their Facebook walls, then you know you’ve got a hit on your hands. More than that, though, I think this video expresses just how we all felt about this song:

9. The Weeknd-”Wicked Games”-If Frank Ocean is the best new thing to come to R&B then the Weeknd is a close second. Admit it. His music makes you wanna have sex. And really, isn’t that what R&B is supposed to do? Okay, maybe not quite. But the guy has a voice to die for and a style all his own.

8. Psy-”Gangnam Style”-Oh, Gangnam Style. Honestly, the video is the best thing about the song and introduces us to a dance that is at least better than that Soulja Boy Superman shit, but no one can deny the impact Korean pop star Psy had on this year with this juggernaught. It’s bound to get old, but for now, the video is the most watched on Youtube and who knows when it’ll slow down.

7. Carly Rae Jepsen-”Call Me Maybe”-I still don’t exactly know how one can miss someone before meeting them, but I’ve learned to just accept it and enjoy the pop sensation that is “Call Me Maybe.” Because there’s no escaping it. Go ahead. Try. You won’t. And Carly Rae Jepsen is fucking adorable. So I feel no shame. Sue me, maybe.

6. Kendrick Lamar-“Swimming Pools (Drank)”-Kendrick Lamar is the breakout hip-hop artist of the year, with his first studio album, “good kid, M.A.A.D City,” being called the best rap album since Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” It’s for good reason. Lamar paints a vivid picture of his home town and crafts a beautiful dark twisted story of his own.

5. Taylor Swift-”We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together/”I Knew You Were Trouble”-I couldn’t really decide which single off of Taylor Swift’s new album, “Red,” should make the list. I just knew the list wouldn’t be complete by today’s standards if Swift wasn’t on it. So I chose both of them. They’re pretty much the same song, but equally catchy as fuck. Go ahead. Judge me.

4. The Killers-”Here With Me”-Okay, so this isn’t exactly one of 2012’s “biggest hits” but I couldn’t resist. Of the three singles released off of The Killers’ new album, “Battle Born,” “Here With Me” makes the list for its emotion, especially as the song reaches its end: “And instead of walking toward you, I ran away.” Damn.

3. Adele-”Skyfall”-It wouldn’t be a “best of” list without Adele these days it seems. This elegant theme for the latest James Bond flick of the same name puts a cap on an already brilliant opening sequence in the movie, and foreshadows the dangers to come when we didn’t even know what Skyfall meant at the time (“We will face it all, together, at Skyfall”). Go ahead, win that Oscar for Best Original Song, Adele. You need to add to your collection of awards.

2. G.O.O.D. Music feat. Kanye West, Jay-Z, & Big Sean-”Clique”-Remember “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy?” The album where Kanye West crafted a masterpiece in hip-hop? Well, “Cruel Summer” wasn’t exactly like that. Here, Kanye and friends (wouldn’t that have been the best title?) just have a grand ol’ time, and it’s all G.O.O.D.

1. Frank Ocean-“Thinkin’ Bout You”-When Frank Ocean came out about his sexuality and his first love, people may have been wondering who exactly Ocean was thinking about. But it doesn’t really matter. The man is a musical genius, and the best new face of modern R&B. Not only that, but his “Channel Orange” is the best album of the year.

10 More (Best of the Rest)

11. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis feat. Wanz-”Thrift Shop”

12. Alex Care-”Too Close”

13. Bruno Mars-”Locked Out of Heaven”

14. Ellie Goulding-”Anything Could Happen”

15. Eric Church-”Springsteen”

16. Meek Mill feat. Drake-“Amen”

17. Swedish House Mafia-”Don’t You Worry Child”

18. The Lumineers-”Ho-Hey”

19. Skrillex feat. Sirah-“Bangarang”

20. Imagine Dragons-”It’s Time”

Worst

1. Train-”Drive By”-Train is the cheesiest band to grace radio stations in recent memory. They’re the Nickelback of pop rock…okay, so Nickelback is the Nickelback of pop rock, but you get my point. Just listen to the lyrics. Listen real close. Have them in front of you even if you have to. And if you hear “when you move me, everything is groovy” and still like the song, then there’s no help for you.

2. Nicole Westbrook (feat. that creepy black guy)-”It’s Thanksgiving”-I put “that creepy black guy” in parenthesis because putting all the blame on an innocent 12 year old girl doesn’t really seem right. That creepy black guy is the same guy who gave us “Friday,” so he seems intent on feasting on the souls of young girls and making them the laughing stock of the internet. What an ass. “It’s Thanksgiving” sounds exactly the same as “Friday” except in this video the creepy black guy shows up in a turkey outfit and eats dinner with a bunch of middle schoolers.

3. Nicki Minaj-”Va Va Voom”/“Pound the Alarm”-I assume they’re interchangeable. Whichever song I like least doesn’t matter, though. I just hate Nicki Minaj nowadays. So pick one.

4. Justin Bieber-”Boyfriend”-”Swaggy.” End of discussion.

5. Maroon 5-”Payphone” feat. Wiz Khalifa/”One More Night”-I didn’t really know which of these Maroon 5 singles was worse, so I put them together. Like the Taylor Swift songs above, they’re pretty much the same thing, except these are bad. When the hell did Maroon 5 try acting all tough and badass? Wiz Khalifa? Really?