411's Top 25 Albums of 2013 (#25 - 21)
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 01.20.2014
From Drake's Nothing Was the Same and Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience - 2 of 2 to Motorhead's Aftershock and more, the 411 staff begins its journey to name the top 25 albums of 2013 with #25 through #21!
Welcome to 411's Top 25 Albums of 2013! Are you burned out on year-end lists yet? Well, hopefully not as we have one more for you! 2013 saw the release of many great albums from a variety of genres, from pop and rap to rock, alternative, even country and electronica. The field of popular music has continued its trend this decade of diversifying; when it's all said and done however, there were some albums that just rose to the top and deserved to be honored as the best of the year. We of the 411 music zone chose to honor those efforts.
To present this list, every 411 writer had the opportunity to share their top 25 albums that were released during 2013. After the staff provided their lists, the results were tabulated and compiled into one single top 25 list. Writers took several things into account, from chart performance and individual sounds to the personal tastes, the album's progression (for good or ill) of the artist's catalog and much more. Keep in mind when reading this list that it is one that spanned all genres, and every staff member of 411 has different tastes. Some value certain criteria more than others do. We don't all agree on what albums deserved the top spots, but we all respect each other's choices and hope you can do the same. We begin our list today with the five albums that just missed the cut, as well as #25 through #21.
Danny Brown - Old
Disclosure – Settle
Atoms for Peace - Amok
Kacey Musgraves - Same Trailer, Different Park
The Weeknd - Kiss land
#25: Jake Bugg - Shangri La
Daniel Wilcox: So Adele, Mumford and Sons, Ed Sheeran and One Direction have all managed to cross the pond and became massive in America, so it's about damn time Jake Bugg did the same thing. Jake Bugg started out a humble, young Nottingham singer-songwriter inspired by the Beatles and Johnny Cash. Everyone compared the guy to Bob Dylan of all people and he just took off. The only problem is somewhere between Bugg's self-titled debut and this sophomore effort, you could tell he'd realised just how good he was. Drawing mammoth crowds at the world's biggest festivals will do that to a teenager. And while it may have effected his ego, thankfully it's not effected the quality of his music, as Shangri La proves. If Bugg's debut album was an indulgence in everyday life in Nottingham, Shangri La is an exploration of having to grow up in the spotlight with the pressure on. Shangri La has as many killer tunes as its predecessor but where it truly excels is its more gentile moments where Bugg slows down and reflects on the whirlwind eighteen months he has that have seen him go from small town country boy to globally successful megastar and future festival headliner. But he's taken it all in his stride, taken all the criticism and skepticism and answering his critics tenfold with beasts such as "What Doesn't Kill You" and "Kingpin." Jake Bugg exudes a confidence unnatural for a man of his young years, but it should come as no surprise considering the multi-layered and intricate music the man makes. No one would blame Bugg if the success has gone to his head. Recording your sophomore album in Malibu with Rick Rubin can be detrimental in attempting to make a heartfelt and personal album while trying to voice some form of social commentary simultaneously, but Bugg excels when his limits are pushed and that's where Rubin has helped him. What the album has lost in raw production (Rubin's records are typically loud in all the wrong places), it has gained in maturity and sophistication. Jake Bugg has a big, big future.
Jeremy Thomas: We music writers like to pretend that we're omniscient and have known about every artist there is since before they even knew they wanted to be musicians. The truth is much further from the truth. And I won't lie; before 2013 dawned I had never heard the name of Jake Bugg. You can take it to the bank however that I was well aware of who he was by the end of the year. Bugg made a splash in the UK with his self-titled album in 2012 and in 2013 he expanded his boundaries to the United States. Shangri La was another element of rock music making its comeback, as Bugg delivered a varied album for his sophomore set that all came together into a single cohesive LP of excellence. Whether you're looking at singles such as the punk-esque "What Doesn't Kill You" or album tracks like the old country-tinged "There's a Beast And We All Feed It," Bugg was a breath of fresh air by taking some elements of rock which have fallen somewhat by the wayside and coalescing them into his sound.
When you listen to Jake Bugg, it is like listening to the greats of rock legend speaking through him. You can hear the Beatles, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Oasis and many other acts in his music, but he doesn't just copy these groups and assemble them like puzzle pieces. Like any great act, he uses them as the brushes to decorate his own canvas into something entirely new and fresh. Shangri La was the album that introduced Jake Bugg to many people, and made us fall in love with him to boot.
#24: Drake - Nothing Was The Same
Jake St. Pierre: Drake has been a curious case since he burst onto the music scene in 2009. He released an excellent, if slightly overrated mixtape that year, dropped a solid debut album a year later, and followed it up with one of the most polarizing hip-hop albums I can remember in Take Care. While it displayed respectable brutal honesty not seen on the mainstream hip-hop scene (despite people slagging him for being "soft", the most bullshit reason for not liking the guy), it was also 80 minutes long and had so many contradictions that Vince Russo would raise an eyebrow. I'm happy to report that Nothing Was the Same is a much different animal. There is a definite level of maturity Drake has reached compared to the Grammy Award-winner, and you definitely see less of the "woe-is-me" first world problems that plagued Take Care.
The album starts off sensationally with "Tuscan Leather", one of my favorite songs of the year in any genre. It's a six minute epic with a breathtaking beat drop prior to the second verse, and the best verses the former Jimmy Brooks has spit yet. The "I'm a toughie!" Drake of songs like "Over My Dead Body" is substituted with a triumphant, arrogant persona that brings out the best in his rapping abilities. Yes, there is a decent amount of singing from Drake on NWtS, but I can't emphasize just how much better he pulls it off this time around. He doesn't do the sing-rapping we saw in such tracks as "Marvin's Room" from Take Care. He usually picks a lane and stays with it on Nothing Was the Same.
The next track—Furthest Thing—is a hazy, laid back come-down track until Jake One shows up with one of his trademark boom-bap instrumentals in another excellent beat drop. Started From The Bottom is one of the laziest songs of 2013 however, and it really drags this down early-on. Here's a note Drake; when you and Mike Zombie decide to make a song called Started From The Bottom, don't use arguing with your mother and borrowing your uncle's car as "evidence" of the peril you've been through. You were on Degrassi for 7 years.
NWtS rebounds once "Own It" hits, another hazy track with some great melodies and production. The tempo doesn't quite differentiate from there on out (aside from the excellent "Worst Behavior"), but Drake's ever-evolving lyrical ability and uncanny ear for beats really make up for it. He doesn't overdo the features like he did on Take Care, the only other rapper on the official project being Jay-Z, who shows up with such a terrible verse that it makes me ashamed of listening to Hova for the first time in my life. Dare I say he briefly steps into Lil Wayne-circa-2013 territory with his ‘cake' segment on the otherwise fantastic "Pound Cake". And if you're looking to delve into the Deluxe Version, "All Me" has a massively hilarious and entertaining verse from 2Chainz, Big Sean not being TOTALLY awful, and one of the catchier hooks of 2013. Overall, there are a few definite missteps on Drake's latest project, but it made my top 15 nonetheless because the highs were some of the highest hip-hop/music has seen this year.
David Hayter:Nothing Was The Same is an album that bleeds. It lurches and crawls. Tracks don't flow or bounce in an out; instead that mutated kick push beat slithers from one track to the next. It's fuzzed out and minimalistic, each sample is chopped down to size and distorted to the point where they couldn't possibly stand alone – and that's just perfect.
This is Drake's grand stream of consciousness; so naturally, even the beat lethargically evolves in micro installments as it branches from one drunken late night confession to the next. "This shit ain't for the radio, but they'll still play it though", Drake has hit the nail firmly on the head. Nothing Was The Same is improbably one of the biggest pop records in the world, and yet, with the exception of the magnificent pure hearted "Hold On, We're Going Home", it's full of isolated and deeply personal anti-pop.
Drake's narratives are often half thought out. He flames the women who could have made him complete and he falls back upon moments of boyish braggadocio before reaching these wonderfully serene moments of introspective clarity. Nothing Was The Same feels like a strange hybrid between reading the diary of a rock star and hearing the inner thoughts of frustrated Lothario who can no longer sleep at night. Nothing Was The Same might just be the most understated and insular magus opus in history.
#23: Elton John - The Diving Board
Chad Webb: For more than four decades, Elton John has been creating great music with consistency and of a higher quality that perhaps people realize or give him credit for. The Diving Board is his 30th solo album, not counting his three collaborative efforts and nine soundtracks he has worked on, is one of the year's best. Music is his life and that is reflected in all of his compositions, even if some are better than others. He, Bernie Taupin, and all the other writers he has employed over the years, always bring heart and passion to the music. There is nothing overly special about The Diving Board other than the fact that it is another outstanding group of songs from an icon. He joins forces once again with Taupin, so it should be no surprise that the material and execution is so strong. These two were meant to make music together. It is also produced by T-Bone Burnett, a trustworthy veteran of the business who has a sharp, knowledgeable ear. There is nary a weak track on The Diving Board, which was kicked off with the superb single "Home Again." The lyrics are incredibly poignant and profound, but combined with the melodies and choruses, they also radiate that familiar Elton John mood. As a whole, the album flirts with many different genres while maintaining the sound we know and are comfortable with. You'll hear songs like "Ballad of Blind Tim" which echo back to John's earlier days, and "My Quicksand" which gives off a soulful or jazzy sound. Many have called this a "return to form" for Sir Elton, but if you ask me he has been pumping out great stuff for a long time. He hasn't returned to anything. He has been here and been giving it his all since 1969.
Jeremy Thomas: If I'm being 100% honest here (and I am), Elton John was one of the last artists I expected to place on a list of best albums in 2013. By no means should this considered an insult to the man; he is a pop/rock legend and deserves just about every accolade he can must. But John is a product of a different era, and you expect a guy like him to be passed by in the days of the MP3 and the fall of the LP as a viable unit of sale. Elton John doesn't create singles; he creates works of music and his iconic singles became so not out of marketing but out of music listeners falling in love with them. One would be excused for wondering if there was a place in the modern popular music landscape for an artist like him.
Of course, while it is excusable to thing Elton John might get lost in the shuffle it is not an accurate prediction. One of the things that makes The Diving Board such a special album is that John so clearly refuses to follow pop music trends simply in order to create hits that will project album sales. Sure, he doesn't exactly need it these days but when has that stopped anyone else? John made an album that is authentic and true to himself and it lets the LP resonate with sincerity and emotion. It's the best album John has produced since Songs from the West Coast in 2001 and possibly even further back. John focuses the whole of the album around his inestimable piano work, with touches of other instruments just strong enough to enhance it. And his vocal work has never been stronger. This is an album that the singer can stack up with many of the heavyweights in his forty-plus year career without it being found wanting, and that's quite a feat.
#22: Motorhead - Aftershock
Chad Nevett: Listening to Aftershock, it's hard to believe that Lemmy was 67 years old when it was released. That's entering a rarified territory in rock music where he stands alongside some of the greats in both longevity and offering a different perspective in his music than most younger bands. Yet, listening to Aftershock, there's a feeling that, for the most part, these songs wouldn't seem out of place on an early Motörhead release. While his age creeps in around the edges, there's a timeless quality to the music that Lemmy and Motörhead produce. That the music is still this good is nothing short of amazing.
It's tempting to listen to Aftershock and attribute themes of death and mortality to the aging of Lemmy and the band. His recent health issues have been a reminder that, although his music is as lively as ever, it's not something that he (or anyone) can do forever. However, the recurring themes of Aftershock are ones that have always been part of Motörhead. They're a rock ‘n' roll band that loves rock ‘n' roll and does very little besides produce rock ‘n' roll songs. It's so incredibly basic at its core and the band makes it look so effortless. This is usually the point in a band's career where albums that rock this hard are the exception to the rule when the only exception on Aftershock is the fantastic slow "Dust and Glass" (and, perhaps, "Lost Woman Blues"). On an album of non-stop rock, this quiet lament stands out with the rest of the album almost revolving around it. If anything shows the cracks of age in the band, it's this song – but, as I said, it also seems like a song that could have shown up on any other Motörhead album.
There's little revolutionary on Aftershock. It's the sort of album that is clearly aimed at people who cannot get enough of Motörhead and that's just fine by me. When a band can be this consistently good, it's easy to be eager for more and the band adds enough new elements to avoid seeming like a simple rehash of the same songs. It's just an album of near-non-stop rock ‘n' roll and I love it.
Robert Cooper: Bands usually age one of three ways. Some bands age like milk, they were good at first, but kind of uncomfortable to consume once they get past their expiration date. Some age like water, they will eventually evaporate, or just stay as they were. But a third category is the best, in my experience. Some bands are like a fine wine, they only get better as they age, and Motörhead seem to be one of those bands. No matter how long Lemmy and the boys are around, they usually find some way to come back bigger and better. Aftershock is one of those albums that came out and all the metalheads were talking about how good it was. After listening to the album, I can see why.
This album is huge; there are no two ways to look at it, there are other 14 tracks here. That gives it an advantage, but it also gives it something that is dangerous. When you have so many songs, you do have a lot of room for great music and proving that your album can last fourteen songs and nearly forty-seven minutes and still remain consistent. But there is also a lot of room for the album to get tired and run out of steam halfway through. Luckily for all us who listened to the album, there was a lot more of the first category than the second here. This album has a lot more hits than misses, and while this is one of those front loaded albums where there is a lot of energy and speed coming out of the gate, but it cools down towards the middle. But even when the band is cool, they're pretty hot, as the quality only takes a minor dip in some spots. This album also features further proof that while I categorized Motörhead as one of the bands that tend to play very similarly between albums, they still can do other things than just play balls out and to the wall. One of the standout tracks is a blues laden track titled "Lost Woman Blues" and is a nice departure from a lot of what the album is and manages to standout among a lot of faster, more energized tunes. I think moments like those are why I find this album to be a pretty great time and has a lot of replay value to it, even though there are a few valleys here, there are a lot more hills than you would expect. Hopefully Lemmy can stay healthy so that we can get another great one in a few years!
#21: Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience - 2 of 2
Daniel Wilcox: 2013 was undeniably a phenomenal year for Justin Timberlake, who has done well to outgrow the whole boy band thing and become a much respected artist in both the music and the film industries, so much so that it may not surprise you to hear that The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 may not be Timberlake's only appearance on this list (hint hint). Justin Timberlake is a guy who enough confidence in his abilities that he never felt rushed into getting back into the music business. He took his time, made some films (Social Network and Friends with Benefits are both great flicks, even if the latter is a bit of a chick flick) and came back when he felt the time was right. We got The 20/20 Experience in the early part of the year, then we had the big summer tour with Jay Z that drew pretty much billions of people to stadiums around the world, and then he unleashed The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2. It should be made clear that this album falls short of its predecessor, even if that is to be expected considering it consists largely of material that was cut from the original. It is arguable that this record is a cash-in when it could have been used as B-sides for earlier singles, or the better tracks simply added to the first album. But it becomes pretty evident that Timberlake's weaker worker is strong than a lot of pop stuff out there. Timberlake proves he's not afraid to take risks. Longer tracks isn't the norm in pop music, but JT makes it work with ease. And there's some great singles in here as to be expected. This album was never going to match the sheer pop brilliance of its predecessor, but it is definitely a worthy follow-up and one of the year's better pop records.
Chad Webb: 2013 saw the release of several spectacular pop albums from Daft Punk to Lorde and many others. Justin Timberlake returned to music in a big way and supplied the world with two great pop albums, collectively titled The 20/20 Experience. This blurb focuses on The 20/20 Experience – Part 2. What both efforts from this two-part release have in common is showcasing a more mature, confident artist. Timberlake has always had innate talent, but his previous outings as a solo musician leaned more toward generic, though that's not meant to dismiss them. With The 20/20 Experience, he appeared more comfortable, braver, and more in tune with what he wanted from his music. One of the notable aspects is that the majority of the tracks were over five minutes long and the set clocks in at north of 70 minutes. This is not unheard of in pop, but it is rare, and certainly gutsy considering the norm is three to four minutes. If one had to pick a superior album between the two, Part 2 would get the edge because the songs as a unit are just a bit better. It contains radio friendly singles, but ones such as "TKO" and "Take Back the Night" mesh so wonderfully with the rest of the content. He dabbles in soul, funk, and even some jazzier sounds here and there, and doesn't go overboard with guest spots (though Drake and Jay-Z contribute solid ones). Fans wanted Timberlake to come back to what brought him to the dance for years, and in 2013 he proved he hasn't lost his touch. The 20/20 Experience was a successful experiment indeed.
And there you have it! Come back tomorrow as we reveal #20 - 16!