So, here we are, the end of an explosive year in music. A year that saw new material from artists we never thought would craft new music again like David Bowie, My Bloody Valentine, Suede, Deltron 3030, Mazzy Star, Black Sabbath with Ozzy. Even seeing artists like Nine Inch Nails, Death, Daft Punk, TLC, return to the scene after years of hiatus was invigorating.
2013 was a year chock-full-of-great music that was very difficult narrowing down to 10 Best Albums, Honorable Mentions, and a special League of Their Own award. It wasn’t just albums from acts we love like Pearl Jam, Paul McCartney, The National, Janelle Monae, Justin Timberlake, Frank Turner, that caught our attention, it was rising artists like London Grammar, Haim, Chvrches, Savages, Jake Bugg, Rudimental, Parquet Courts, that really had us focusing on what could be the next big thing. Yet, looking back, this is a list that really sums what this year up the way we saw and heard it.
It was a year that indie hip-hop stormed through and gave heavy hitters like Jay Z, Kanye, Eminem, Drake, a run for their money. It may have been the year that Yeezus emerged, but it was the year that hip-hop flexed the muscles that would be it’s future thanks to Action Bronson, Joey Bada$$, Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, A$AP Crew, and Kendrick Lamar’s verse on “Control.” This year also marked the 20th anniversary of Wu-Tang Clan’s triumphant debut, and while we were promised a new Wu album, that didn’t pan out. However, two of the group’s masterful lyricists, Ghostface and Inspectah Deck, laid out separate solo albums that sliced and diced the competition and showcased the new class how it has to be done. It was a year that sounds were darker and filled with landscapes that could only be cultivated in the mind of a musician and visited by a listener. Now, here we are, the Top 10 Albums of 2013. As always, in short and then long form:
2013 Top 10 Albums In Short Form:
10 - John Wizards
9 - Sigur Ros - Kveikur
8 - Arctic Monkeys - AM
7 - Action Bronson & Party Supplies - Blue Chips 2
6 - The 1975
5 - Thundercat - Apocalypse
4 - Ghostface Killah - 12 Reasons to Die
3 - Inspectah Deck, 7L & Esoteric - Czarface
2 - Suede - Bloodsports
1 - James Blake - Overgrown
Now, In Long Form with Explanations:
10. John Wizards
The late, great Nelson Mandela fought and dreamed of his country to become a rainbow nation and fought and dreamed for all Africans to come together and unite as one. John Wizards takes Madiba's dream and makes it a reality. The band, who are based in Cape Town, South Africa, combine African drums, hip-hop, trippy electronica, ambient, shoe gaze, rock, new wave, and so much and manage to filter it through in a way that doesn’t sound over produced, over saturated and most importantly overdone. This band is the brain child of Cape Town’s John Withers who linked up with Rwandan singer Emmanuel Nzaramba to craft this unique and very creative sound and vision. The album plays like the soundtrack to the dreams you have at night and feels as if you are on a cultural and psychological journey with the musicians as they travel from one form of music to another. John Wizards simply create great music for fans of music.
Key Tracks: I'm Still A Serious Guy, Limpop
9. Sigur Ros - Kveikur
The Icelandic giants returned and did a total 180 from last year's disappointing, Valtari. Kveikur hears Sigur Ros experimenting with metal, industrial, hard rock and create one of their finest albums of their illustrious career. This harder and much more aggressive seventh album from Sigur Ros is something that will appeal to fans and those that are still questioning the musical capability of this magnificent band.
Key Tracks: Brennisteinn, Stormur
8. Arctic Monkeys - AM
We have watched Arctic Monkeys grow-up and evolve right in front of our very eyes, from their brilliant barnstorming debut, Whatever People Say I Am Is What I Am Not to their very latest, AM. They have been around for less than a decade and manage to maintain their rock and roll identity but explore different paths within it. On this year's release, AM, the bands fifth, they mature as songwriters and musicians. They haven’t played their instruments at 100 mph since their first two LP’s but they have learned to make the same impact by doing less. AM is a record that does just that. It is not the stoner-rock joyride that Humbug was, nor is it the lyrical masterpiece that Suck It And See was, AM is older and wiser, in fact in many ways it is better than all of those things. AM holds the key to the Monkeys future and proves that Alex Turner’s clever songwriting is not someone trying to do all of these things, but just is. AM could be viewed as a lazy title, but in fact, it is the symbolic outlook of the bands music, doing so much with less, AM could be looked at as “am,” and the Monkeys could be telling us this is who they are. If that is the case, we are glad they are making music in this day and age. Plus, any band referencing Scorsese’s Mean Streets deserves high recognition.
Key Tracks: R U Mine?, Knee Socks
7. Action Bronson & Party Supplies - Blue Chips 2
Last year, Bronson and Supplies teamed up for their near flawless mixtape and one of last years best albums, Blue Chips. Now, the prove that they are one of the best rapper / producer teams in hip-hop with the brilliant Blue Chips 2. The latest mixtape proves that sequels do not suck and hears them paying homage to the mid 90’s. It is a slice of life style tape that features samples from Phil Collins, Billy Joel, Tracy Chapman, and memorable bites from NBA players of the era, and of course raw sampling and beat work that is a throwback to hip-hop’s glory days. Bronsolino and Supplies do it again, and we hope there is a third installment to the Blue Chips saga in the works.
Key Tracks: Jackson & Travolta feat. Mayhem Lauren, Midget Cough
6. The 1975
We have raved all year about The 1975, even calling them this year's "Best New Artist," so, it should come as no surprise that their debut landed somewhere on our Top 10 list. The British band combine the perfect blend of dance rock and pop hooks that proves that good pop music can be played with a guitar and good rock can have pop / radio appeal. After you are done listening to this album, you are just going to want to hit repeat and play again.
Key Tracks: Sex, The City
5. Thundercat - Apocalypse
Every artist making a second album needs to pay attention – Thundercat shows how you do it! The Brainfeeder bassist went into orbit to show off his dynamic range more than before. Apocalypse is a vivid, colorful, jazz, funk, rock, prog, dance showcase that fuses genres so perfectly together. Think if Flying Lotus had Justin Timberlake in a studio with Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew-era band and were told to make a record with the spirit of early Michael Jackson, well, that is what Thundercat did. I dare you, in fact, I double fucking dare you to try and sit still listening to this album or not attempt to be blown away by this perfect craftsmanship.
Key Tracks: Tenfold, Oh Sheit It's X
4. Ghostface Killah - 12 Reasons to Die
In a year when hip-hop was dominated by the biggest names in music, one of parts of hip-hop's most legendary group showed how to really push a few boundaries, blur genre lines and still be creative but staying true to your style. Taking his love of mafia films, horror movies, comic books, and music and rolling it into one epic album, Wu-Tang's Ghostface Killah returned with his best album since 2000’s Supreme Clientele. Working with composer Adrian Younge, Ghost brings a storyline that Hollywood wish they could write. 12 Reasons to Die is a concept record set in the 1960’s about Tony Starks, a man who is muscle for the Italian mob, when Starks falls in love with a don’s wife, they whack Starks but little do they know he will return as the Ghostface Killah. Rapping over an original orchestral score provided by Younge, Ghost delivers a supreme hip-hopera.
Key Tracks: I Declare War feat. Masta Killa, Rise of the Ghostface Killah
3. Inspectah Deck, 7L & Esoteric - Czarface
Three hip-hop titans teamed up for a trident of intense beats, rhymes, and progress to the future of the genre while throwing back to what has been laid down already. Taking queues from hip-hop’s glory days of the 1990’s, Czarface also lays out a blueprint to future collaborative hip-hop groups as to how it should be done. Much like Ghostface's album, Wu-Tang's Inspectah Deck teamed up with the underground rap duo 7L & Escoteric to create a hip-hop concept record about a superhero that could only come from the imagination of creators like these. With special guests Action Bronson, Roc Marciano, Ghostface Killah, Cappadonna, Mr. MotherFuckin Exquire, and more, Czarface plays like The Avengers coming together on the mic.
Key Tracks: I Declare War, It's Raw feat. Action Bronson
2. Suede - Bloodsports
Suede or The London Suede (depending on what part of the world you are from) returned after 11 years with their latest, Bloodsports and show everyone in music – This is how you make a comeback! One of the finest comeback records ever released, Bloodsports heared the Britpop legends refreshed, reenergized, reinvigorated, and most of all renewed for the next chapter of their careers. From singer Brett Anderson’s unique powerul falsetto voice to the bands inspiring guitar and rhyme sections, each song of Bloodsports is a fight to show why this band still matters. If each track is a new round in this fight, they come back swinging harder, faster, and stronger with each building song.
Key Tracks: Barriers, It Starts and Ends With You
1. James Blake - Overgrown
The British beatmaker and digital crooner, James Blake returned with his sophomore album and after his breakthrough 2011 beautiful self-titled debut, Blake grew and stretched his limbs as an artist, composer, singer, producer, and lyricist. Overgrown hears Blake take more of an R&B approach to his music rather than writing folk tunes over dubstep beats, it is a swelling and emotional record that takes the listener on a journey into the darkest places of their heart and mind. With a guest appearance from RZA, it is a testament that a brilliant mind from another genre is running to work with him. In a year filled with magnificent sounds and styles, Blake showcased it all on a record that will be talked about for years to come, which is why it is our album of the year.
Key Tracks: Take A Fall For Me feat. RZA, Digital Lion
So, that is it folks. The year in sound. Thanks for checking it out and hope you enjoyed the list! Take a look at our other year-end music lists below: