Wednesday, December 18, 2013

10 Best Albums of 2013

Here we go, everyone! It's time for another countdown post for 2013. First, it was all about the best singles of the year, but now we're going to talk about full-length albums as a whole. Sadly, Beyoncé's new self-titled album wasn't able to be included on the list, because I had already wrote most of this post before she surprise-released it. I'm sure it would have made it somewhere in the top ten, but I just haven't had enough time to listen to it all and analyze it.

10. Music From Baz Luhrmann's Film 'The Great Gatsby' | Various Artists

In terms of soundtracks, I'm not usually the biggest fan. They're usually not exactly of high-quality, but both The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Great Gatsby had outstanding soundtrack albums this year. Personally, I was excited for Music From Baz Luhrmann's Film 'The Great Gatsby' ever since Lana Del Rey's "Young and Beautiful" was announced and released as the lead single to the album. The song blew me away, especially the Dan Heath orchestral version, and I was further impressed with songs from Sia, Florence + The Machine, Emeli Sandé, and Gotye. With such great artists all on one disc, what is there not to love?

9. Bangerz | Miley Cyrus

As I said before in my last post, the Top 20 Singles of 2013, I'm completely aware that Miley Cyrus has gone off the deep end this year, but when you take all of the crazy antics away, you can still find some alright music from her, and obviously Bangerz is proof of that. Don't shoot me, but... I actually like the album cover for the standard edition of Bangerz. I love the 1980s Miami Vice vibes; it looks so retro. And Cyrus is covering the majority of her body in the cover, which is another plus. 

I'm not saying Bangerz is perfect, because it is far from it, but it has some good bops on it. "SMS (Bangerz)," which features Siri Britney Spears, is a likeable trainwreck. It's messy, it has the stupidest lyrics ever written, and it doesn't make any sense, but I can't stop listening to it on repeat. I've found myself walking down the hallways at school randomly saying "Bangerz, bangerz / Fuckin' bangerz" and I seriously cannot control it. And let's not forget both of the legendary singles from the album, "We Can't Stop" and "Wrecking Ball," and two of the best ballads on the album, "Adore You" and "Someone Else." However, with messes like "4x4" and "#GetItRight," the album gets dragged down by haphazard filler tracks.

8. Secondhand Rapture | MS MR

Secondhand Rapture is the hardly-publicized yet high-quality debut by indie band MS MR. The duo has created a bit of buzz with lead single "Hurricane," but has yet to majorly break through on a bigger caliber. "Hurricane" gives a great insight to the rest of the album: some indie pop with some twisted lyrics. I especially enjoy the lyrics of the chorus of the lead single: "Welcome to the inner workings of my mind / So dark and foul I can't disguise / Can't disguise / Nights like this I become afraid / Of the darkness in my heart / Hurricane." Other highlights include "Fantasy" and "Dark Doo Wop," with the latter including some more intriguing lyrics: "If we're gonna die, bury us alive / If they're searching for us they'll find us side by side" and "This world is gonna burn, burn burn burn / As long as we're going down / Baby you should stick around."

7. Prism | Katy Perry

Prism was meant to be Katy Perry's "fucking dark" return, but was somehow contorted to a bright album full of posies and a stray "Dark Horse" or two. I think most of the "fucking dark" comments came when she was still bitter about her divorce from Russell Brand, but she obviously got over it because she seems pretty happy now. Most of the album sounds somewhat bland, recycle the same sounds over and over from song to song, but it's still listenable. 

Believe it or not, there are actually a few diamonds in the rough. I can't believe I'm saying this, but "Unconditionally" did not deserve to flop so hard when compared to Perry's other singles. It can easily be added to the fairly short list of truly genius Katy Perry songs: "E.T.," "Unconditionally," and "Dark Horse." Speaking of which, "Dark Horse" gives way to a new trippy sound on Prism, while "Walking On Air" brings in strong 1980s vibes. The album nods back a few decades for "Walking On Air" and "Birthday," and brings in a more of a spiritual sound on "Legendary Lovers." It's an alright album, but I can still see room for improvement.

6. Stars Dance | Selena Gomez

This year, we saw a new Selena Gomez: one that isn't backed-up by the Scene. However, her debut solo album, Stars Dance, is better overall than any of the albums by Selena Gomez & The Scene. As we all know, Stars Dance contains the legendary "Come & Get It," but even with that single under its belt, the album seemed front-loaded with all of the truly great songs. The Baja party that is "Like a Champion" and the dubstep-inspired title track join the impressive lead single in the first half of the album.  While the second half of the album was decent, it just wasn't as explosive as the first for some reason. But it was still a pretty decent album and was one foot ahead of the albums of both of her Disney counterparts.

5. Avril Lavigne | Avril Lavigne

This year, the real curve-ball was Avril Lavigne; I didn't really expect it to be so good. I was surprising debating between giving it a three or a four star review, but ended on a three star note because of her seemingly bi-polar attempts with her career. Surprisingly, I actually really like Avril Lavigne (minus "Bad Girl" and the lyrical aspect of "Hello Kitty") and I wouldn't be lying if I said it is one of my favorite albums yet from the "motherfucking princess."

I can tell that it's going to be a great album to listen to in the summer; why it was released in mid-November, I have no clue. A lot of the songs just give me visions of driving down a country road at dusk in the middle of July. Two of the songs in the track listing even reference the season: "Bitchin' Summer" and "Sippin' on Sunshine." If I had to describe the album in any other words, I would definitely use "fun." There's no other way to put it; Avril Lavigne is just a fun album, and sometimes all I need is fun little pick-me-up during the  day, and "Here's To Never Growing Up" and "17" do just the trick.

4. Trouble | Natalia Kills

Natalia Kills let it all out with Trouble. Her debut album was a major synthpop album, but this release focuses on a dark sound that I instantly fell in love with. This album makes it obvious that Kills has suffered in her life; from what we can tell through the music, in her childhood life there were alcohol and drug problems, domestic abuse, run-ins with the police, and family torn apart by an imprisoned father. She poured every single one of the memories into this album and it shows. When an artist puts so much feeling into a piece of work, it's easy to tell because the quality goes through the roof. 

Songs like "Saturday Night" directly profile the abuse between her mother and father ("Mama, you’re beautiful tonight / Movie star hair and that black eye / You can’t even notice it when you smile so hard through a heart felt lie"), while "Daddy's Girl" clarify her confused feelings towards her abusive father ("I'll keep your secrets, I'll never tell / You know I'll ride with you right through the fire of hell / They got your number, but you're safe with me / Even if they lock you up and throw away the key"). The album is undoubtedly the most cohesive albums of the year, perhaps even the decade, and every song is quality piece of work that adds a new piece to a beautiful puzzle.

3. Pure Heroine | Lorde

Now, here is a girl that started with nothing and somehow ended up with everything using just her voice a simple beat from a drum machine. All she had to utter was "I've never seen a diamond in the flesh," and suddenly she can buy a diamond bigger than the state of Texas. "Tennis Court" flew around the Internet while "Royals" dominated the radio, leading for a total domination from Lorde. The lyrics of all of the songs from Pure Heroine are pretty deep; it's surprising to know that a girl who is younger than me came up with all of these concepts. Predictably, the lyrics are extremely relatable to teenagers like myself (especially those of us from relatively small towns), which makes me like her so much more. Like Natalia Kills' Trouble, this album is very cohesive and flows well from song to song and it's actually weird to only listen to one song out of the album and then skip the rest. The whole album is so perfect together that I don't know why anybody would want to only buy or listen to just a few of the songs.

2. Halcyon Days | Ellie Goulding

To be honest, Halcyon Days really caught me off guard this summer, as I was just growing into the sound of the original Halcyon album and finally truly starting to appreciate it. I'm really glad I did stumble upon this one, because it really accelerated my love for Ellie Goulding. Although the ten new tracks cannot be purchased as a separate album, but are instead bundled together with Halcyon, I made my review only over the Halcyon Days portion of the album. I love how the sound is separated between dark sounds on the first album ("Figure 8," "Don't Say A Word," "Hanging On"), while the new tracks explore a slightly-happier yet similar electronic sound ("Goodness Gracious," "You, My Everything"). 

What I really love about Halcyon Days is that Goulding still isn't trying to be anybody who she's not; that's how all of her albums have been thus far. She's just... being Ellie Goulding. There's no forced character behind the music, nor is she trying to impress anybody. She's just making music that she likes and sharing it with everybody. Goulding was once quoted saying, "I like simplicity, which is why I'm not afraid of pop or dance music. I just look for the hook, the center. And it can be the words or the melody, just the one thing that can relate to everyone." I love this quote because she's not trying to be anymore than she actually is, but she's completely underestimating herself because Halcyon Days can easily be considered a masterpiece on my list. I mean, any album that contains a song as strong as "Hearts Without Chains" gets a top-notch grade from my standpoint.

1. ARTPOP | Lady Gaga

It's quite obvious that ARTPOP has smashed all of its competitors this year. Fans have been waiting for this album since Born This Way but absolutely nobody expected such a genius era plot: To combine concepts of classic and modern art with pop music. The album cover hit me like a Sour Patch Kid; at first I hated it, but soon afterwards it grew to be one of my favorite covers from Lady Gaga. She's pumping a bigger meaning into pop music, which is something extremely challenging to do, but it's Lady fucking Gaga... She can do as she wants. She has literally built an empire around herself full of fans that she can't disappoint, and thus far, she has really delivered.

The best parts of ARTPOP are the amazing beats and the completely hidden symbolism behind most of the songs. "Do What U Want" was inspired by tabloids writing about Lady Gaga's weight gain while on tour with the aborted Born This Way Ball, "Applause" was written about her love for performance and the connection with her fans, and "Dope" was meant to act as a confessional to her fans and family about her looming drug addiction. With productions from DJ White Shadow, Zedd, Madeon, and even Lady Gaga herself, the album really hit a home run in terms of quality. And if anybody tries to deny that this album is meaningless garbage, make them listen to "G.U.Y." and "Gypsy." They'll retract their comment immediately.

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