Well, happy 2014 lovers!
It’s that time of the year again – the time to endlessly bitch, squabble and throw some glorious shade on the countless ‘best of’ charts that get the internet goin’ nuts! And of course, here’s Zomgtalk’s top 50 albums of 2013 for y’all to moan about.
Before I proceed to display my staggeringly stunning taste in music, let’s have a look back at the year that was, shall we?
2013 was largely disappointing musically, until about the last two weeks of the year when a certain Miss Beyonce Knowles slayed the industry in every way imaginable. Over-hyped releases failed to live up to their expectations (Gaga, Katy, Britney – we love you and stuff, but no). And as per usual, the underdogs made a mark (Robin Thicke, Daft Punk, Lorde, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Jhene Aiko).
Mariah, poised to re-emancipate herself after releasing ‘#Beautiful‘, went all ‘Charmbracelet‘ with ‘The Art Of Letting Go‘. The song broke new ground in South Korea though, peaking at # 7 on the Gaon International Charts #winning. Celine Dion, however, made a decent-ish comeback with her lowest first-week sales yet highest charting album in almost a decade. And oh, songstress supreme Sia was on EVERYONE’S album. I mean EVERYONE.
Janet Jackson was a no-show (boo hiss!), while Rihanna collected her yearly #1 song, overtaking Madonna in the process (she actually SANG this time around). Rihanna, however, did NOT release an album this year – which is basically the equivalent of THIS :
And omg Miley Cyrus’s tongue y’all – we are unworthy of our existence and sufficiently in awe of that organ.
Personally, dare I say, I’ve had a stellar year. I couldn’t get enough of 2013! I’ve seen the world, been to many places (REFERENCE!!!), and lived the life I’ve always wanted to (you know, private jets, world tours etc #humblebrag). Haters – you know who you are – collect your low-life tranny-assed wigs at the door bitches!
So here are my top 50 albums of 2013. Each album on the list is special to me, and is highly recommended for a listen. Some of the albums on the list were released in 2012, but have continued to mark their presence in 2013 through the release of some monster singles. And this year I’ve included EP’s as well. This ain’t the Billboard 200 – it’s just a list of albums that described what 2013 meant to me. The top 20 albums get a much-deserved shout out and a video. Enjoy, and happy 2014 y’all!
50. Paramore – Paramore
49. Tales Of Us – Goldfrapp
48. English Rain – Gabrielle Aplin
47. Overgrown – James Blake
46. The 20/20 Experience – Justin Timberlake
45. Side Effects Of You – Fantasia
44. Random Access Memories – Daft Punk
43. Annie Up – Pistol Annies
42. Better – Chrisette Michele
41. Pure Heroine – Lorde
40. The Great Gatsby (OST) – Various
39. If You Wait – London Grammar
38. The Blessed Unrest – Sara Bareilles
37. The Hunger Games : Catching Fire (OST) – Various
36. Saint Heron – Various
35. SongVersation – India Arie
34. Salute – Little Mix
33. Closer To The Truth – Cher
32. Ketevan – Katie Melua
31. Avril Lavigne – Avril Lavigne
30. The Minutes – Alison Moyet
29. Talk A Good Game – Kelly Rowland
28. Artpop – Lady Gaga
27. Prism – Katy Perry
26. Ciara – Ciara
25. Yours Truly – Ariana Grande
24. A Mary Christmas – Mary J Blige
23. Girl On Fire – Alicia Keys
22. Red – Taylor Swift
21. 20 – TLC
And now, the coveted top 20!
20. Heal – Loreen
Masterfully crafted alluring melodies, dark haunting strings blended in with instantly catchy high-octane electronica – Swedish singer/producer and Eurovision 2012 winner Loreen’s début effort ‘Heal‘ is sophisticated EDM-Pop at its best. Too bad the US did not get a chance to witness instant classics like ‘My Heart Is Refusing Me‘, ‘In My Head‘ and ‘Euphoria‘ – as the album is yet to be released there. But then again – it was the UK that gave the world Adele and Amy Winehouse first before the US hopped on board. So there’s still hope.
19. True (EP) – Solange
Solange’s ‘Losing You‘ was quite easily the best song of 2012 for me. The accompanying EP ‘True‘ released late in 2012 could very well be the template used by older sister Beyoncé to release her genre-bending self-titled album last month that is pretty much conquering the world at the moment. ‘True‘ is a classic slice of Nu Soul/Neo Soul and 70’s funk – blended in with traces of 80’s R’n’B (Janet Jackson in her ‘Control‘ era could have easily churned out ‘Lovers In The Parking Lot‘). I kept playing the EP on loop well through 2013 – it’s a timeless example of Solange’s impressive versatility as one of the brightest musicians in the game. Time for album # 3 A.S.A.P Solange!
18. Loved Me Back To Life – Celine Dion
It’s Celine Dion y’all. Her magnificent vocal chops guarantees a placement of anything she releases within the year-end top 20. I didn’t think Celine could slip in to the conventional top 40 territory without losing her very essence (like she did for the underwhelming ‘Taking Chances‘), but with ‘Loved Me Back To Life‘, the songstress (with a little help from Sia, Ne Yo) found a way to keep her sound refreshingly unique, while staying true to her legendary pipes and classic balladry. Just give the stellar ‘Somebody Loves Somebody‘ a listen. This time around, Celine delivered.
17. Bangerz – Miley Cyrus
Face it – 2013 belonged to Miley Cyrus. The twerk, the tongue, the sledgehammer, the wrecking ball, the giant pussycat, the infamous VMA performance – all led to Ms Cyrus notching two back-to-back global # 1 smashes ‘We Can’t Stop‘ and ‘Wrecking Ball‘ – with the video for the third single ‘Adore You‘ (where she touches and writhes her way to public consciousness) outrageous enough to guarantee her a hat-trick of smashes. ‘Bangerz‘ – easily the most iconic and adventurous mess of an album released this year, and Miley’s unapologetic transition from a Disney princess to an urban pop rebel – debuted at # 1 worldwide. In spite of her on-stage antics and barely-legal nipple blasting semi-porn shoots, ‘Bangerz‘ boasts of a handful of undeniably bold and slickly produced smashes (‘Adore You‘, ‘#GetItRight‘, ‘SOS‘) that easily gets the album placed within the top 20 this year.
16. Alive – Jessie J
Although a tad clichéd, songstress Jessie J’s sophomore effort ‘Alive‘ is a more sonically accomplished album as compared to her multi-platinum début ‘Who You Are‘. Soaring hooks, massive vocals, empowerment anthems, replay-ready cuts – Jessie managed to keep it cohesive with an ensemble cast of songwriters ranging from Sia, Stargate, Rodney Jerkins to Diane Warren. Yes, Jessie does sound like Britain’s reply to Katy Perry (she sent 6 singles off her début album to the top 10 on the UK Charts, and 2 off ‘Alive‘ already), but this time around – Jessie blends in a little bit of Pink, a little Alicia Keys and even collaborates with R’n’B royalty Brandy. ‘Thunder‘, ‘Daydreamin‘, ‘It’s My Party‘ and ‘Harder We Fall‘ are standout tracks on the album, and are stellar enough to remind listeners why they fell in love with her in the first place.
15. Matangi – MIA
She was gone for a minute, but she came back in style. British-Sri Lankan Pop revolutionary Mathangi Maya Arulpragasam aka MIA’s oft-delayed fourth studio effort ‘Matangi‘ finally dropped this year after being stuck in label-hell for a year and a half. Although nowhere close to the cohesiveness and stellar productions of her début and sophomore efforts ‘Arular‘ and ‘Kala‘ – ‘Matangi‘ easily packs an abrasive experimental percussive punch with relentlessly morphed beats (‘Karmageddon‘), superbly frenetic psychedelia and moody snarls (‘YALA‘) and a smattering of radio friendly hits (‘Bad Girls‘, and oh – ‘Exodus‘ NEEDS TO BE A SINGLE). ‘Matangi‘ may not be sonically friendly to the unfamiliar listener, but for a MIA fan – this one’s for the collection.
14. The Truth About Love – Pink
Consistency. Pink’s career redefines the term. With 14 years of solid hits under her belt, Pink is undoubtedly one of the biggest players in the game. Her 6th studio album ‘The Truth About Love‘, released in 2012, became one of the biggest sellers of 2013 as well due to the standout third single and global # 1 smash ‘Just Give Me A Reason‘ featuring Nate Ruess. Time and again, Pink proves that she’s a trailblazer. Take a bow girl!
13. Britney Jean – Britney Spears
A Britney Spears album missing out on the year-end top 5? Disastrous by Britney standards. The reason? Professional ruiner of everything classy, Will.I.Am, getting his generic robo-pop paws on Britney’s ‘most personal album’ ever. The result? Cuts like ‘Body Ache‘, ‘Tik Tik Boom‘ and ‘Work Bitch‘ – which are as personal as toilet paper. The saving grace? The stunning William Orbit-produced ‘Alien‘ – the sparse electronica laced album opener, and the Sia-co-written ‘Perfume‘ – easily Britney’s most vocally accomplished track ever. Enough to push the album to a # 13 position this year.
12. Our Version Of Events – Emeli Sande
Neuroscience student (!!!!) and UK’s biggest contribution to music in 2012, Emeli Sande’s début extravaganza ‘Our Version Of Events‘ – a hugely emotional, honest and cohesive collection of classic balladry, soul-baring mid-tempo urban-pop, gentle piano melodies and magnificent vocals – easily became the best-selling album of 2012 in the UK. Cut to 2013 – the album reigned as the UK’s biggest seller yet again for the entire year – until One Direction’s ‘Midnight Memories‘ overtook Sande by a measly 2000 units in the last week of the year. At any given point on the album – Sande’s stellar versatility reflects influences ranging from a feisty Mary J Blige to a warm Annie Lennox to a restrained Beyoncé . Cuts like ‘Clown‘, ‘Mountains‘, ‘Suitcase‘, ‘My Kind Of Love‘ provided radio with a much-needed jab of soothing soul, and if you’ve yet to listen to the album, you’re missing out on one of the most masterful and shining debuts of this generation. My fave album of 2012 (along with Taylor Swift’s ‘Red‘), the sonic triumph easily finds a place on this year’s top 20 as well.
11. Heartthrob – Tegan And Sara
Canadian Indie Rock duo Tegan And Sara’s supremely solid 7th studio effort ‘Heartthrob‘ has possibly made it to every credible best-of 2013 list out there. But, obviously. Arguably the twins’ most radio-friendly effort till date, ‘Heartthrob‘ veers towards a softer Indie-Folk sound (Greg Kurstin) with haunting, delicate synth-laden gems like ‘Closer‘ and ‘I Was A Fool‘. Easily a major highlight of the year, as well as the twins’ highest charting album till date, arriving at # 3 on the Billboard 200.
10. Gods Robots – Gods Robots
As I had already reviewed earlier this year, cross-continental duo Gods Robots’ self-titled début album is quite unsurprisingly one of the most intriguing efforts of 2013. Packed with amply dreamy and cohesive moments of pop-soul perfection (‘Stormy Weather‘, ‘One By Four‘, ‘Stay‘ – easily the album’s finest moments), Janaka’s electronic pulsations are a gorgeous compliment to Shridevi’s crystalline vocals which are the forefront of the album. Easily, a soulful slice of pop excellence worthy of a top 10 placement this year. Time for a feverishly anticipated album number 2 guys!
9. The Electric Lady – Janelle Monae
‘Categorize me, I defy every label‘ – powerhouse Nu-Soul diva Janelle Monae bellows on the defiant lead single ‘Q.U.E.E.N‘ featuring Neo-Soul pioneer and icon Erykah Badu, from her sci-fi R’n’B tinged sophomore album ‘The Electric Lady‘. With an all-star ensemble of guest vocalists saturating the album including Prince, Erykah Badu, Esperanza Spalding, Miguel and Solange, ‘The Electric Lady‘ could hardly miss out on a much-deserved top 10 placement on our charts. The album, divided into two suites, is clearly open to interpretation (especially about Monae’s sexuality – ‘Am I a freak because I love watching Mary?‘) – and with Monae providing a plethora of radio-friendly ear-worm hooks, sassy electro-funk and R’n’B rooted gems aplenty, ‘The Electric Lady‘ pushes the envelope beyond generic R’n’B saturating the airwaves. On a personal note, my fave song on the album ‘What An Experience‘ pretty much sums up what the year 2013 meant to me.
8. Days Are Gone – Haim
One of the biggest surprises of the year, California based Pop-Rock trio Haim may well be described as the missing link between 70’s Folk-Rock, 80’s Synth-Pop and 90’s R’n’B. One may easily be forgiven for confusing a few cuts off their critically lauded stellar début album ‘Days Are Gone‘ as Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis productions. A superbly giddy mix of Fleetwood Mac, Joni Mitchell, Cyndi Lauper, Teena Marie, TLC and Kate Bush, the Haim sisters’ debut effort is an endlessly supreme slice of nostalgia-meets-top 40 radio. I couldn’t get enough of the token ballad ‘Go Slow‘ and ‘Honey And I‘. With ‘Days Are Gone‘ triumphantly debuting at # 1 on the UK Top 40 Albums Chart and within the top 10 in the US, Australia, Europe and Canada – get set for Haim to claim a major share of the spotlight very, very soon.
7. Love And War – Tamar Braxton
The story of the less fortunate underdog of a sibling coming out of the shadows and claiming a stake in the game is always intriguing, and rather inspiring. Janet’s done it before. Kelly Rowland’s succeeded to an extent. 2013 saw the return of sultry R’n’B siren Toni Braxton’s younger sibling Tamar Braxton who followed up a long forgotten 2000 début with a stellar comeback. ‘Love And War‘ is a well-crafted and slick collection of delectable mid-tempo urban odes, soaring ballads (she’s inherited the Braxton contralto) and Hip Hop-savvy ratchet-ey cuts that proves Braxton’s got the chutzpah to join the ranks of Mary J Blige and Alicia Keys. And with the album debuting at # 2 on the Billboard 200 with opening sales of 114,000 units, Tamar surpasses the chart peak of Toni Braxton’s last 3 studio albums. Finally, and appropriately, it’s Tamar’s time to shine.
6. Unapologetic – Rihanna
I’ve never been a fan of a complete Rihanna album per se, it’s usually her killer singles that occasionally infiltrate my iPad and my treadmill playlist. With her 7th studio album ‘Unapologetic‘, Rihanna unveiled the most personal, confident, intimate and relate-able album of her career – and notched up her very first # 1 album (and 1675th # 1 single – I’ve stopped counting, rih-ally) on the Billboard Charts. Rihanna isn’t exactly known for her power-house vocals – but with cuts like ‘Stay‘ (one of the biggest hits of 2013) and ‘Diamonds‘, there’s no denying the power of Miss Fenty’s impassioned, aggressive yet vulnerable vocal chops maneuvering seamlessly through some classic balladry. A far cry from when some of her vocals sounded like one elongated bray on her more generic offerings in the past. The highlights of the album? The Eminem assisted slow-grinding strip-tease ready ‘Numb‘, and the autobiographical ‘Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary‘. And of course – the Sia (who else!) crafted ‘Diamonds‘.
5. Frame By Frame – Cassadee Pope
Finally, a Voice winner that has turned into a radio star with an album worthy of the show’s title. ‘Frame By Frame‘ – the début album of the season 3 winner of ‘The Voice’ – may well be a collection of unapologetic Country-Pop trending along the lines of what Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift have churned out for the past 5 years or so. But surprisingly, the Country crooner’s chops effortlessly craft a near-perfect album sprinkled with plucky banjos, ambient fiddles, killer guitar riffs and honest storytelling that sets the album apart from the aforementioned Country queens. It was the poignant and devastatingly beautiful ‘11‘ – a track chronicling her parents’ divorce – that won me over. With ‘Frame By Frame‘ debuting at # 1 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart, this is just the beginning for Pope.
4. Feels Like Home – Sheryl Crow
9-time Grammy Award winning Pop/Rock goddess Sheryl Crow may easily be one of the most celebrated voices of the afore-mentioned genres – but would Sheryl’s bluesy pipes work the same magic as she ups the Nashville content on her very first Country album? A defiant hell yeah! ‘Feels Like Home‘..well, feels like home. Genuine, warm, lush and cozy. It’s been a minute or two since we’ve heard the ‘All I Wanna Do‘ chanteuse release an album as cohesive as this – and Sheryl navigates the toe-tappin’ twangs, the razor-sharp wordplay and characteristically catchy hooks with restrained ease. Ironically, the very essence of Crow’s deliciously strong sound remains irresistibly intact. ‘Easy‘ remains one of my fave songs of the year – it’s as mellow as a warm summer evening. And the quiet magic of tracks like ‘Give It To Me‘, ‘Waterproof Mascara‘ and ‘Homecoming Queen‘ gets stronger with every listen. Bravo, Sheryl!
3. Sail Out (EP)- Jhene Aiko
There’s not a single dud on LA-based feather-voiced Nu-Soul chanteuse Jhene Aiko’s stellar début EP ‘Sail Out‘ (read the original EP review right here). With ambient sparse productions and lush dreamy melodies – Aiko hits a graceful stride to effortlessly become the most promising new R’n’B artist to look out for in 2014. From keeping it cold and stoic on the icy strains of ‘The Worst‘ to the ominous ‘3:16‘, to flaunting her vocal versatility in the Childish Gambino-assisted deliciously Aaliyah-esque ‘Bed Peace‘ – Jhene Aiko explores and rides the new school Alt-R’n’B wave with gleeful ease, and keeps it pleasurably potent. A fine first step indeed, paving the way for her feverishly anticipated full-length début ‘Sould Out‘ scheduled for release this year.
2. Same Trailer, Different Park – Kacey Musgraves
Hands down, my fave new artist of the year. With an impressive 4 nods at the upcoming Grammy Awards, and a firm position on every best-of chart released this year, Kacey Musgrave’s ballsy major-label début effort ‘Same Trailer, Different Park‘ is clearly not your grandma’s brand of country music. Firstly, the 25-year-old Texas-bred chanteuse’s cleverly casual and confident song-writing skills easily makes her the best songwriter to have arrived on the scene since Miranda Lambert. ‘Make lots of noise/Kiss lots of boys/Or kiss lots of girls/If that’s something you’re into‘, Musgrave advocates on the fiercely coy ‘Follow Your Arrow‘, a song that will never be a single as Country Radio won’t play it. A revolution of sorts in a genre as conservative as Country, that the album managed to début at # 1 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart (remember the Dixie Chicks and Chely Wright? You push the envelope at your own peril here). Ironically, Musgrave remains unsentimental and detached, yet pleasingly frank and witty throughout most of the album – and that’s what makes the entire album so relatable, cuz she tells it as it is. When she does get sentimental though, she lays it bare and kills it – resulting in the my fave track on the album (and my fave song of the year along with Brit’s ‘Perfume‘ and Sheryl Crow’s ‘Easy‘) – the simple yet tender ‘Keep It To Yourself’ (read the original song review here). ‘Same Trailer, Different Park‘ packs a triumphant punch guaranteed to garner Musgraves the recognition she richly deserves.
1. Beyoncé – Beyoncé
It had to be Beyoncé.
Without question, ‘Beyoncé‘ is the most ambitious, introspective and intimate album ever recorded by Mrs Carter, and also her most provocative – oozing Janet Jackson-levels of raw sexuality, vulnerability, fear and love (Jackson’s ‘The Velvet Rope‘ album is most definitely a template here).
Beyoncé lays down the rules with this one – she can do whatever she wants, and can get away with it with approximately zero fucks given.
Coincidentally, the world agrees.
With almost a million and a half units shifted within a mere 14 days of the album’s release, ‘Beyoncé‘ is the fastest selling album in the history of iTunes, and the biggest selling album by a female vocalist this year. Again, within 2 weeks.
Clearly, the way Beyoncé released the album shattered and defied every rule in the game. A stealth release, an unsuspecting world woke up to an entire album in the midnight hour on December 13th, 2013 (replete with 14 songs and 17 accompanying music videos) simply titled ‘Beyoncé‘, without a hint of traditional promo.
The outcome? Mass hysteria, as Beyoncé became the only woman in history to send 5 consecutive releases (her entire output) since her début effort to # 1 on the Billboard 200.
As the hype of the release slowed down, we were able to concentrate on the final product that was ‘Beyoncé‘. The verdict? ‘Beyoncé‘ was worth every bit of the hype.
With a staggering bouquet of songwriters and producers including Pop and R’nB’s most trusted names ranging from Sia, Drake, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell, Ryan Tedder, Frank Ocean, Noah Shebib, Timbaland among others – Beyoncé lets go of her radio-friendly servings of sugar-coated Soul, and finally rides the wave of the new school of sparse, ambient and futuristic R’n’B/Electro-Soul already made famous by the likes of Frank Ocean, Jhene Aiko and her younger sister Solange. And lyrically – she brings in the heat (‘Let me sit this ass on you‘ – she declares on ‘Rocket‘, now that’s an opening line!).
Through the 14 tracks, Beyoncé’s soul comes through the speakers, as she addresses her fears and insecurities (‘Soul not for sale. Probably won’t make no money off this, oh well‘ in ‘Ghost/Haunted‘), gets outright explicit and gleefully filthy (‘Can you lick my skittles? That’s the sweetest in the middle‘ in ‘Blow‘), builds up a self-empowering manifesto (‘Perfection is the disease of a nation, it’s the soul that needs the surgery‘ in ‘Pretty Hurts‘), unleashes her alter ego (‘I sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicker. Yoncé all on his mouth like liquor‘ in ‘Yonce‘), and remains legitimately coy and horny (‘He popped all my buttons, he ripped my blouse. He Monica Lewinsky-ed all on my gown‘ in ‘Partition‘). And oh – she’s still crazy in love with Jay-Z, as evident in their duet ‘Drunk In Love‘.
For the first time ever, I could really appreciate and relate to Beyoncé as an artist, especially cuz with one bold move, she revived the concept of listening to an album as a whole, and not just a collection of singles – like back in the day when a Janet Jackson or a Madonna album would drop.
Easily a reminder of the mega-star’s status as an icon, ‘Beyoncé‘ is way much more than just a subtly autobiographical album. It’s a cultural moment.
Take a bow, Beyoncé!