The 8 Ball 06.29.13: The Top 8 Albums of 2013 (So Far)
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 06.29.2013
From Kanye West's Yeezus and David Bowie's The Next Day to Black Sabbath's 13, Daft Punk's Random Access Memories and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 albums from the first six months of 2013!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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It's the middle of 2013 as of this weekend, as June ends and July begins. That means one thing: it's time for looking back at the first six months of the year and seeing what stood out. 2013 has actually been an exceptional year for music, particularly mainstream music. Rock music has continued to make an increasing impact on the industry and charts while some of the more banal aspects of music have been forced increasingly more into a backseat position. Major artists have made long-awaited returns while new artists continue to come to light to impact the charts. This week I thought I would look at the best albums to his 2013 in the first six months.
Caveat: Pretty simple: if the album was released in 2013, it is eligible. Obviously, it must be said that I have not heard all albums released so far this year; that would be nearly impossible. I try to listen to all major music releases but there are a few I haven't had a chance to get to, such as the new Queens of the Stone Age album or the latest LPs by Pusha T, Bon Jovi and Drowning Pool, among a few others. For those curious, I have given ratings to forty-five albums thus far in 2013 which puts me a touch behind the forty-seven I was at at this point in 2012. I have no worries, though, that I will be caught up and probably even ahead of the 118 I finished 2012 at by the end of the year.
Just Missing The Cut
• Johnny Marr - The Messenger
• Ghostface Killah - Twelve Reasons To Die
• The Strokes - Comedown Machine
• 2Cellos - In2ition
• J. Cole - Born Sinner
#8: Orphaned Land - All Is One
Starting off our list is an album that is still pretty new for my ears. When I started organizing things for the 8 Ball I had not yet heard this LP; then late Thursday night/Friday morning our resident metal master Robert Cooper passed this one onto me and right from the first moments of the opening track I fell in love. Orphaned Land is not a name that will bring recognition from mainstream music fans, but the Israeli prog metal band has been making music for over twenty years now and All Is One is their fifth full studio album. On All Is One the group takes a more symphonic tone to their music, slipping back on the heavier sound but keeping their lyrics pointed and thematically dark. There is something truly sublime about the way that the group seamlessly melds Arabic string influences into progressive metal style; they are not two sounds that you would expect to bleed smoothly into each other but they do. It's an incredibly unique piece of musical art with pointed, well-written lyrics that fit the operatic style of prog metal quite well and stand on their own. It's still fresh in my mind and that may have influenced its placement on this list, but either way it's a fantastic piece of work.
#7: Kanye West - Yeezus
When I reviewed Yeezus a couple of weeks ago, I said that it would be the single-most polarizing of the year. It's already proven to be that case as music fans have practically gone to war over the merits of the album. And you can't really be surprised or even blame people on either side. Yeezus is a drastic shift musically from what we last heard from West in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and even Watch The Throne with Jay-Z and the bold production moves (not to mention some questionable lyrical decisions) were guaranteed to turn some people off and fire up others. Even I, who am a big fan of the LP, needed several listens before I could codify an opinion on it; I wavered back and forth from loving it to hating it with each listen. The more I listen to the album though, the more I grow to appreciate what West has done here. Even if don't feel he should be commended for veering well off the worn path that hip-hop travels sonically, you have to appreciate how well he melds his sound into the album. It stands as a cohesive piece of work and, while not his best album in terms of lyrical themes, still tackles topics much weightier than nearly all of his contemporaries. This is one that people will be debating throughout the year and the dust certainly hasn't yet settled, but i feel comfortable placing it on my top eight so far.
#6: Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires Of The City
If I'm being honest, I have to admit that I was not particularly looking forward to the new Vampire Weekend LP. I have always had a certain amount of respect for the group but to be frank, I've always felt that they are a bit overrated by critics. Modern Vampires of the City is the first LP by the band to bring me fully into their corner. The four members of the group took some time off after Contra to explore side projects, then regrouped for this and the result was their most mature and interesting album to date. The sound is unmistakably a Vampire Weekend sound but more refined and interesting as a result; the lyrics tackle weightier topics and in a more effective way than any of their previous work has. There are thoughts on the United State's foreign policy, finding one's place within the world, faith and even a sense of mortality. None of the band's members have even crossed the thirty year-old mark but they address these topics with an approach that makes them seem much older without sacrificing any of their youthful energy. That's a rare accomplishment and it makes Modern Vampires their best work to date.
#5: Black Sabbath - 13
When Black Sabbath announced last year that they would be reuniting for their first Ozzy Osbourne-led album since 1979's Never Say Die!, I had pretty much the same reaction as any fan of heavy metal out there did, which was "Great, but can they even deliver at this point?" Let's be honest, people...no matter how much faith we have in the Godfathers of Heavy Metal, all of us were thinking it, at least a little. That being said, one statement was firmly and thunderously delivered with 13: never doubt Sabbath. The masters of doom metal delivered an album that sounds like classic Black Sabbath but also doesn't seem outdated; rather, it shows that the metal band is still fully capable of showing the many acts that they inspired exactly how it's done. Starting off with the epic "End of the Beginning," the group propels through a mere eight songs, which would seem slight if not for the fact that over half of them are epics in length at seven minutes or more. The album resonates with an undeniable energy and is layered with thick overlays of doom; it works both as a throwback to the classic days of metal and a hopeful sign of the genre having a new rise to prominence. Mock them as geezers all you want, because that doesn't change the fact that when they strap on their instruments they still rock as hard as they ever have.
#4: Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
Daft Punk's new LP was one of the more highly-anticipated new albums of the year and their opening week sales of 339,000 in the US alone certainly drove that point home. For an EDM group to claim the second-highest sales point of the year to date is unusual, but it's also quite understandable considering just how good the album is. For Random Access Memories, the French duo branched out musically and delivered one of the most diverse and intriguing albums of the year. Disco and soft rock compete with funk, electronica and progressive pop for an album that contains a lot of twists and turns but always stays eminently enjoyable. There are elements on this that shouldn't work but not only work, they soar. Look at "Giorgio by Moroder," which uses a monologue by the Italian producer named in the title as a lyrical track over an electro-funk click track. This is the kind of thing that in anyone else's hands would come off exceedingly pretentious, but the duo makes it work incredibly well. And it's not even close to the best song on the album either. From the megahit that "Get Lucky" has become to the flittering synth work of "Motherboard," the eighties-style anthemic dance quality of opening track "Give Life Back to Music" and more, this is an album that helps redefine the genre of EDM and makes it not only palatable to the masses who avoid the club scene, but even thrilling.
#3: Atoms for Peace - Amok
Thom Yorke's new side project is just another example of how talented the Radiohead frontman truly is. And that's not taking anything away from the other members of Atoms for Peace, which includes Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, R.E.M. drummer Joey Waronker and Forro in the Dark percussionist Mauro Refosco. Everyone brings their A-game on Amok and helps deliver an incredibly dense, engrossing piece of music. The group combines IDM and experimental rock into a brilliant mix of mood music that, like Random Access Memories, takes electronica in a direction that flies miles above what you normally hear from the genre. Like much of Radiohead's work it takes more than one listen-through to fully absorb, but even on that first run through it isn't off-putting in any way. It's astounding from a technical aspect, with a multi-layered sound that never is content to let itself stagnate; what makes it even more impressive that, while Yeezus accomplished the same musically, this one never once falters from a lyrical standpoint. It sounds electronic but plays like rock, fusing the two into an impressive combination. In fact, Amok can partially be blamed for me missing some albums because I've become so enamored of it I have a tendency to just listen to it over and over rather than jump on something new.
#2: Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience
By the point when the new year rolled around, it had as a long time since Justin Timberlake had made new music. The pop star-turned-actor-turned media mogul's last LP was 2006's FutureSex/LoveSounds and a lot had changed within the music industry during that nearly seven-year period. Thus, when Timberlake announced that he would be releasing The 20/20 Experience in March there was some small amount of concern on my part. Would Timberlake come back as the man who was trying to redefine pop music on FutureSex or would he play it safe, falling well within the established guidelines of the current pop music crowd? The answer, it turned out, was something different than both of those possibilities and the result was fantastic. In The 20/20 Experience we found a Justin Timberlake who doesn't feel the need to try and reinvent pop, but also doesn't bow to the pressure of throwing out banal dance-pop just to get on the charts. That game 20/20 an assured confidence that makes its callbacks to an era when R&B-flavored pop used to be fun. With his longtime collaborator Timbaland deftly steering the way on the production side, Timberlake delivered an album that was no more or less than what he wanted to make as opposed to what he thought people would want from him. With songs that defy the radio-friendly snippet lengths without losing any of their listenability, Timberlake delivered what is easily one of the better pop music albums of the last several years.
#1: David Bowie - The Next Day
Of all the big returns of 2013, none were more surprising than that of David Bowie. No one even knew that he was recording music until on January 8th--Bowie's sixty-sixth birthday--the album was announced out of the blue. Many believed that Bowie was retired and would stay that way but thankfully he wasn't because he delivered an album that stands tall among his storied career. On The Next Day, Bowie delivers a dark but deeply enjoyable piece of work that is unlike anything in current music. It has all the hallmarks of greatness: musical diversity, willingness to experiment, great lyrical content and undeniable energy. At almost sixty years of age Bowie shows more freshness than scores of artists half his age and younger. It is the kind of bold, confident work that only an artist of Bowie's genius could create and it stands on top of the mountain that is 2013 in music to date.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
I was going to include my favorite music video of the year here, but I already have it above with Timberlake's "Mirrors." So instead I'll toss in a track from an album that just missed the Honorable Mention cut in Fall-Out Boy. I've never been a huge fan of the band but Save Rock & Roll was a hell of a lot of fun (if you pretend the Courtney Love-featuring song doesn't exist). Check out "My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up)" below:
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.