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01 Jan

The Top 11: Favorite Albums of 2013

If 2013 has taught me anything, it is to get back on board with this blog! Since I’ve been busy with my other blog, PopRedux80, I haven’t had time to concentrate on this one. Hopefully, I’ll rectify that this coming year. (Ah – a new year’s resolution!).

For the most part, music this past year was pretty good and I think an improvement over 2012. I discovered some new artists who delivered excellent debuts and also heard solid efforts by artists I’ve previously followed. I still found myself craving older stuff and got totally lost in collecting Northern Soul, fleshing out more of my old 80s faves, and deep diving into the Nilsson catalog. Although CDs are still my primary purchase point, I’m getting more digitally inclined and have downloaded more this year. Spotify has been a constant companion and despite those folks who think it’s bad for artists, it has opened up my ears to a lot more music that I would not normally have heard and I have purchased music and supported artists due to this access (and I subscribe to the service). I’ve taken part in Kickstarter and Pledge Music campaigns this year (including the one for my #1 album of the year) and look forward to doing more funding. I still think the business of music is in flux and will be for a while, but while this is happening it’s still the music that matters and here are my faves that kept the beat alive for me this past year.

1. “To Hell with You” by Bleu – Bleu’s second funding campaign proved to be even more successful than the first and along with that came his most adventurous outing to date. He takes you on a journey that starts with an orchestral overture and deftly moves through power pop, electronica, and even rap. Some fans grumbled about the side steps out of Bleu’s power pop wheelhouse, but I thought it was awesome to see an artist grow yet still maintain their identity. Hands down it was the disc I played the most through the year and each time I hear it, I end up thinking that I can’t wait to find out what he does next. This is one of my favorite tracks. The album should be available in iTunes soon and also on BandCamp.

2. “Random Access Memories” by Daft Punk – I’m not the biggest fan of EDM, but when it is done like this album, I’m totally on board. Plus, Paul freakin’ Williams is on here! This one has made a ton of “best of year” lists and rightly so.

3. “Tales of Us” by Goldfrapp – Sumptuous and haunting, they tone down the hot 80s beats of their last outing for something quiet and beautiful. For me, they have yet to disappoint.

4. “Samson & Delilah” by VV Brown – Talk about a change of direction, this disc completely tosses out the fun pop of her debut in favor of dark electro grooves. When artists make such a drastic change, the odds are not in their favor that it will work. For Brown it does in spades and it shows the beginnings of a true chameleon, which is quite exciting. Too bad it virtually got ignored here in the US.

5. “Departure & Farewell” by Hem – It has been way too long since their last disc and this picks up where they left off. Their music is precious and almost fragile, but it seems with age there is an added strength that has made this effort more confident. I’m glad I finally got to see them live this year – they did not disappoint.

6. “The Next Day” by David Bowie – In a mega-long career like Bowie’s, there is that inevitable moment when a new disc is heralded as a return to their classic sound and it usually is not (and it usually disappoints). In this case, it was spot-on. There is a lot of sound here from various Bowie periods, yet he does it all in a way that makes it fresh.

7. “In Time” by The Mavericks – Absent for ten years, this group comes back as if they never left. Solid songs, tight playing, and Raul Malo’s voice still soaring, this was as good of a comeback as anyone could hope to have.

8. “Same Trailer Different Park” by Kacey Musgraves – Although technically not a debut (she had a couple self/indie discs), it was her first major release and so for me this was the best debut album of the year. Musgraves sounds great, but it is her writing that is the real star here. If she can keep up (or exceed) this quality, she has superstar written all over her.

9. “Swings Both Ways” by Robbie Williams – Released in the UK near the end of the year, this scattered disc of originals and standards plays surprisingly well. It can be fun, serious, and quite campy and Williams pulls it off like a musical magic trick. The wink-wink title kind of lets you know what you are in for and luckily it is for a good time.

10. “The Electric Lady” by Janelle Monae – Keeping up with the theme set by her prior two discs, Monae comes out again with another disc of interesting jams and oddities surrounded by a slightly incoherent story. It plays just as big as her last epic and can get a little tiresome, but she is always interesting.

11. “ARTPOP” by Lady Gaga – I never thought this would appear on my list. On first listen, I didn’t like the album. A lot of it seemed to replay stuff she has already done and was almost laughable (not in a good way). But the more listened to it, the more it stuck with me. She doesn’t advance her craft here, however the results become more interesting with each listen and I found myself digging it and her new family of characters.

Honorable Mentions:  “All’s Well that Ends Well” by The Candle Thieves, “Wonderful, Glorious” by Eels, “Speak a Little Louder” by Diane Birch, “Pure Heroine” by Lorde, “The Diving Board” by Elton John, “Heartthrob” by Tegan and Sara, “The Lone Bellow” by The Lone Bellow, “Forever Endeavour” by Ron Sexsmith, “Electric” by Pet Shop Boys.

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