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 411mania » Music » Columns

411's Top 25 Albums of 2013 (#15 - 11)
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 01.22.2014

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, a recap of what's come before and and then #15 through #11.

Danny Brown - Old
Disclosure – Settle
Atoms for Peace - Amok
Kacey Musgraves - Same Trailer, Different Park
The Weeknd - Kiss land

The List So Far:
#25: Jake Bugg - Shangri La
#24: Drake - Nothing Was The Same
#23: Elton John - The Diving Board
#22: Motorhead - Aftershock
#21: Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience - 2 of 2
#20: The National - Trouble Will Find Me
#19: Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
#18: J. Cole - Born Sinner
#17: Orphaned Land - All Is One
#16: Lady Gaga - ARTPOP

#15: HAIM - Days Are Gone

Daniel Wilcox: If you paid any attention to the musical press this time last year you should have already known that Haim were going to have a good year. They were pretty much every self-respecting music critic's choice of "one to watch" in 2013, but even if they hadn't been, Haim made it damn near impossible to not notice them this year. They were everywhere. Coming off the back of high profile supports slots with Mumford and Sons and Florence and the Machine in 2012, the trio of sisters were set on making this year their own and they did a pretty good job with their debut album Days Are Gone beating Justin Timberlake to the number one slot in the UK and hitting the top ten in North America. Come year's end, they're comfortable in the top twenty or so of everyone's year-end lists.

Days Are Gone offers little new material for long-time fans, but it's a great way to spend three-quarters of an hour. Days Are Gone sits in a weird middle ground where it can appeal to anybody. Indie folk love it because its been hyped by everyone from NME to Pitchfork so it would always be a favourite. The album celebrates the delicacies of 80s pop radio honestly but sounds brilliantly up to date and refreshing. It's got a rock edge, but more than enough tunes to fill up many an indie dancefloor. I might be tempted to question the sustainability of their sound, but these three girls were pretty much born in to rock n' roll and they've already done a fantastic job of finding their feet in the music industry, so my worries are probably misguided. Days Are Gone is one of the true feel-good records of the year, and it's almost impossible not to like Haim. To know them is to like them, to listen to Days Are Gone is to fall in love with them and based on first impressions it's going to be a lustful affair.

Jeremy Thomas: There are certain artists who have seemingly made it their missions to prove that pop music is more than just an empty genre for throwaway radio play and dance-heavy bangers. One of the acts leading that charge is Haim, who came out with one of the most pleasant surprises of the year in my book. The Los Angeles-based quartet were on the verge of breaking out in 2012 with an exceptionally well-received EP, but 2013 was the year that they really made their first steps toward becoming a household name. That came via Days Are Gone, an album that was acclaimed by critics and beloved by fans. Haim certainly contains some dance-esque elements to it, but there's an air to their music that is both lighter and has more emotional impact than the majority of the pop starlets debuting at #1 on the singles charts. Their music sort of wafts along in your brain like a pleasant memory long-lost but rediscovered; it reminds me of something I've been looking for in pop without realizing it. Indie without being hipster and mainstream without being watered down, everything on this album is just a sheer joy to listen to. Whether you're looking at the radio-promoted opening tracks like "Falling" and "Forever" or the more eclectic back half of the album, there's something in each song that can lift your heart. The group blends indie pop with '90s R&B in perfect proportions and mixes in a little alt rock in there once or twice just for fun. It's a debut album with real impact and I hope to hear a lot more from them in the future.

#14: Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap

Daniel Wilcox: Do we allow mixtapes on our year-end awards? Is that a thing we do now? I have no idea, but it's a good thing we do because Acid Rap is a great piece of work by a young rapper who first came to my attention this summer. He was one of the names Eminem was championing in various interviews, along with the likes of Action Bronson and Run the Jewels who could also have easily made this list if my fellow staffers had got their act together. So if it's good enough for Eminem, it's good enough for me; I immediately gave Acid Rap a try and six months later it's one of my most-played rap albums of the year. Considering the various members of Odd Future were supposed to rule the roost this year, Chance the Rapper has done well to make a name for himself.

While Tyler, the Creator flopped with that horrible Wolf album, Earl Sweatshirt and A$AP Ferg found their crown of hottest young prospect being challenged by a rapper barely out of his teens embarking on an incredible journey of self-discovery. What Acid Rap tends to lack in cohesiveness, it more than makes up for in its far-reaching encompassing of so many genres and sounds, from house and jazz right the way through to blues rock and gospel. The album is a crap-shoot of musical experimentation that sets Chance apart from the vast majority of his contemporaries. I can't honestly say Chance stands head and shoulders above the rest, but he makes this album work when it really shouldn't, and what's really impressive is that he's barely a man and has many, many years ahead of him. There's glimpses of a young Kanye in there, even if you have to wade through a lot of pretence to find the perfection. The guest spots are perfect too, with the aforementioned Action Bronson making a memorable performance as well as Childish Gambino, who has also had a wildly successful year. Acid Rap encompasses everything I like about the modern rap scene outside of your Kanye's and Marshall's. It's young and it's hungry and it's ready to devour the competition.

Jake St. Pierre: If Joey Bada$$ didn't exist, Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap would be far-and-away my favorite hip-hop project of the year. At 20 years old, he kicked the door in with a vengeance, releasing one of the zaniest, wackiest, most experimental projects of 2013. On top of that, he received a co-sign from Childish Gambino and has risen so high that his songs have become recognized all over the world. While what he raps about isn't exactly fresh or new, the way he goes about it certainly makes him one of the more unique voices in the genre today. His shrill, nasally voice is instantly recognizable, sounding like he took a 20 year old Lil Wayne and Culdesac-era Gambino and smashed them together.

That comparison may seem like I'm labeling him derivative, but Chance is anything but. While I wasn't wholly impressed with his still-solid 2012 release 10 Day, he improves in every facet on Acid Rap. You want fun, rappity-rap tunes? Check out Pusha Man. Want a zany, out-there love song? Put on Lost, which has a sensational verse from unknown female rapper Noname Gypsy. Want a conscious, lyrical track? Listen to Paranoia, a fantastic hidden gem that comes about 30 seconds after Pusha Man that makes its case for one of the best songs on the project. Want one of the catchiest rap songs I've heard in years? Check out the other candidate for best track in Cocoa Butter Kisses, featuring two top-notch verses from Vic Mensa (who's Innanetape barely missed my top 25) and ever-awesome Twista. The only criticism I could levy at this project is that it starts to drag a little in the middle, only lifted up by a hilarious Action Bronson verse and pulled down by a boring Childish Gambino verse and an abomination from Ab-Soul. It picks up steam towards the end with Acid Rain, and doesn't let up. Chance the Rapper is one of those guys that has paved his own lane in hip-hop, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how he's going to advance along it. Acid Rap is certainly a must-have for any hip-hop head.

#13: Arctic Monkeys - AM

Daniel Wilcox: I'd like to start out by saying that I am massively disappointed in my 411 colleagues for not voting this higher. 2013 really was Arctic Monkeys' year. They headlined the world famous Glastonbury festival alongside the Rolling Stones this summer, and they stole the show with ease. The swagger and sheer confidence the band oozed at Glastonbury was on show for all to see on AM, the band's fifth full-length record. It also just so happens to be their very best, combining the tongue-in-cheek lyricism of their debut and the experimentation and sophistication of more recent efforts Humbug and Suck It and See.

AM is an album with two major themes; getting really, really high, and having lots of sex, and sometimes the two run simultaneously together as they should. It's all woven together by the brilliant mind of the band's frontman. Alex Turner is at his mind-boggling best here, showcasing his lyrical brilliance front and centre on "Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High" and the infectious "Snap Out of It." Elsewhere, you've got slick 90s hip-hop beats merging seamlessly with 70s rock groves; it's not a seismic shift in the band's sound but it is the kind of fine-tuning that takes the band from being the frontrunners of last decades indie-rock rebellion into a whole new type of artist. AM effortlessly blends melancholy self-pity and riotous floor-fillers in equal measure, boasting the charm and wit of a band that knows it is at its creative peak. AM is Alex Turner's masterpiece and has cemented Arctic Monkeys as one of the most important bands not just of the 21st century, but of all time. AM is the culmination of the band's transformation from boys to men, but don't be surprised if it's not the peak of their creativity; Alex Turner's is a mind that can never be predicted, and this is a band with unlimited potential. The 411 writers got it wrong; AM is album of the year.

Jake St. Pierre: Arctic Monkeys are one of my favorite bands. Their debut album is in my top 5 all time list, but I'll admit that I don't feel like they've quite lived up to that potential since. They've released 4 albums since then—one that I absolutely adored (Humbug) and one that other people found just as amazing as their debut, but I found lacking (Your Favourite Worse Nightmare). I know that sentence sounds incredibly contrarian compared to common opinion, but hey. Regarding Suck It and See, it was just kind of there for me. Nothing groundbreaking and probably my least favorite AM album. AM, however, has come the closest to matching the quality of Whatever People Say I Am… than anything they've released since.

The first song "Do I Wanna Know?" has one of the catchiest drum rhythms of AM's career, and said catchiness is only exacerbated by an excellent guitar riff from Jamie Cook. In fact, the beats on this album are hip-hop influenced all over the board, really departing from the menacing drums of their first two albums. This shift in percussion is extremely fresh from a band that began as the Arctic Monkeys did. They follow that with "R U Mine?", the 2011 single that missed Suck It And See but made it here. It's a relatively simple radio single, but Arctic Monkeys can even do those well. Hell, a lot of the album is just as catchy as [insert derivative radio single here] and songs like "Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?" and "Snap Out Of It" only prove that with their infectious beats and vocal melodies. That's a recurring theme throughout the album, as you can probably tell.

"Arabella" might be the crowning jewel of AM however, even with its very generous…borrowing of the War Pigs guitar riff during the chorus. That song really shows a musical maturity on every front, providing a highly advanced alternative to their earlier work. Alex Turner's vocals still remain sharp and unique, and his lyrics are always clever and biting when they need to be.

AM is a good ol' fashioned Rock n' Roll album. There's not much to say about complex instrumentation or groundbreaking 10 minute epics. Arctic Monkeys pull out a rhythmic, fun, catchy, and top-to-bottom fantastic album that seems to have brought them a new level of fame here in the States. Having seen them in Tulsa recently, I can tell you that the Arctic Monkeys are true masters of their craft. AM only proves that a band who could have crashed and burned so easily after their sensational debut is here to stay for a long time…and I'm happy to report that they haven't overstayed their welcome yet.

#12: Beyonce - Beyonce

Joseph Paige.: Like Jesus Christ, Beyonce came back like a thief in the night and not one of us were prepared for her return. Instead of releasing a single and promoting an album release date months in advance Bey just released her album on iTunes on a random Friday night. I'll be honest with you, the marketing ploy was so genius that I questioned myself whether or not she really dropped an album or not. Indeed it was legit and to top things off there was a video released for every track playing out a visual theme to accompany the music itself. Now the reason why this album is one of the best of the year is simply because it's Beyonce at her finest. The no restraints attitude she took on her last album is still present but even stronger. When listening to this album you really get an insight on who the woman is as a person, entertainer, wife, and mother. What most stands out about this album is that you see Beyonce as sort of a new-age feminist. No she's not burning bras in one of the many videos that accompany the album, but there are many statements made throughout the album which identify her as someone who's trying to push the boundaries of what is acceptable from the female culture.

The stand out track is "***Flawless". Many may remember the first half of the track from the leaked Sound Cloud track "Bow Down" a few months ago. In which Beyonce received a lot of flak from feminist and even one of her R&B peers, Keyshia Cole. In the original track Bey was being her braggadocios self by claiming she was the top female in the game and that the other "bitches" needed to bow down. However, in the album track there is an added speech on feminism delivered by South African native Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. The added excerpt gives more credence to the track and in it we see that Beyonce's intentions are not to refer to her other peers as "bitches" but rather show that the competitive nature being placed on them from society is an issue that is plaguing females not just in the pop world, but in our everyday world as well. All in all the album is solid, but it does slow down a bit too much and could use a few more up-tempo tracks. But to see Beyonce finally break out of her "Ms. Perfect" shell and share with the world not only her perfections, but her flaws and insecurities is quite refreshing. This is the album that is going to remind the world why she is the Queen Bey.

David Hayter: Beyonce pulled off something truly stunning in 2013; she answered each and every question her critics had been posing throughout her already illustrious career, with one fully realized LP.

She was too neutral, too safe and too showbiz to take up a feminist cause: enter the earth shattering banger that is "***Flawless" and the body fascism backlash of "Pretty Hurts". Not only was Beyonce engaging with the fourth wave of feminism (one of 2013's dominant trends), she was standing above the petty disputes and creating seething hits that rang true as they swept across gender boundaries. Beyonce was inherently sexy, but her records were always afraid to truly get down: well "Blow" and "Partition" single handedly destroy that notion as Bey provides a female counterpoint to Prince with the former and offers seductive strength and a delectable audio strip tease on the latter.

The former Destiny's Child star often made great tracks, but she was never truly daring or cutting edge: well pretty much the entire album rebuffs this point. Picking up where 4 left off Beyonce is full of forward looking pop; whether it be barmy ("Superpower") or the hypnotic blend of ethereal beauty and hip hop brutally that is "Haunted". On this album Beyonce finally lived up to all the impossible expectations that are placed upon her. She was sexy, fiercely feminist, forward thinking, daring and still somehow the biggest pop star on the planet – it should come as no surprise that Beyonce was my choice for album of the year.

#11: Black Sabbath - 13

Robert Cooper: It's not very often in today's society that a heavy metal release is anticipated by members of both the metal community and the mainstream music society as a whole. Not many bands can bring forth such interest from both sides, Metallica is one, but I think that Black Sabbath are the other band that fit that bill. This album was announced on the day of metal 11-11-11, and was announced as the reunion of their original line-up, and hotly anticipated from then on out. So a bunch of stuff happened between then and when the album came out, Tony Iommi found out he had cancer, Bill Ward left over a pay dispute, and Brad Wilk stepped in for him in the studio. But after all of that, the album came out to a reception that was mixed, but expected for an album this large. This happens with all anticipated projects in all fanbases, some people are going to love it, and some are not. But luckily for you guys at home, I did love it.

This is by far the best Ozzy fronted Sabbath album we could have asked for in this day and age. While it would have been great to hear the awesome Bill Ward behind the kit, Brad Wilk still does a solid job of stepping in. Ozzy also sounds more motivated here than I feel that he has in his past few solo records. Sure, the dude wasn't working with pipes like his Black Sabbath counterpart Ronnie James Dio, but for what he has, he managed to bring a life, an energy, and a motivation out of himself that I did not expect to hear when I started listening to this album. He tried his best to find the vocals that he used to lay down, and I can get behind that wholeheartedly. But what I feel like are the real stars of the show are one of the, if not THE greatest guitar/bass of Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler. They both sound like they haven't missed a beat, and the two of them together really helps make this feel like a Black Sabbath record. There are some real standout songs on here, songs like "God is Dead?" and "End of the Beginning" feel like songs that came from the band in the 70s and tap into the same greatness that made this band special. While admittedly, the band does manage to stretch songs a bit long on this album, I can forgive that because most of the songs on this album are great and their length only hurts them marginally. Overall, this album is a great bookend to the band, as the bell at the end implies, if this is the final album for the band, it is truly fitting for a band with as storied and great a legacy as they have. While the 'Devil You Know' album done with Dio was a better record, it just feels right for an Ozzy record to possibly end the band, studio wise. Whether or not this is the case has yet to be seen, but either way, I think we can all be glad this album came out to answer all of the "What If?" question of if Ozzy did one more album!

Joseph Lee: Another band that made a big return in 2013 was Black Sabbath, complete with Ozzy Osbourne. Ozzy may have lost a step or two with his solo output over the years, but you wouldn't know it from his contributions to Sabbath's new album. While it's not the same type of music the band released in their prime, it does sound like an older, more mature kind of rock from the same guys. The lead single "God Is Dead" gave fans a brief taste of what was to come. When you get deeper into the album you find rocking, epic tracks like "Age of Reason" and "Peace of Mind", as well as more melodic, slower songs like "Zeitgeist". It's got something for everyone, provided you're into awesome, face-melting metal.

And there you have it! Come back tomorrow as we reveal #10 - 6!


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