411's Top 25 Albums of 2013 (#5 - 1)
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 01.24.2014
From Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP 2 and Kanye West's Yeezus to Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience and more, the 411 staff completes its journey to name the top 25 albums of 2013 with #5 through #1!
Welcome to 411's Top 25 Albums of 2012! Are you burned out on year-end lists yet? Well, hopefully not as we have one more for you! 2012 saw the release of many great albums from a variety of genres, from pop and rap to rock, alternative, even folk and electronica/dance music. The field of popular music diversified greatly over the last twelve months; 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 2012. 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 then #5 through #1.
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
#14: Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap
#13: Arctic Monkeys - AM
#12: Beyonce - Beyonce
#11: Black Sabbath - 13
#10: Queens of the Stone Age – ...Like Clockwork
#9: Arcade Fire - Reflektor
#8: Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks
#7: Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires Of The City
#6: David Bowie - The Next Day
#5: Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience
Daniel Wilcox: Can I copy and paste the majority of my blurb from The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2? No? Fine. As if it needs saying again, this was a great year for Justin Timberlake, but it very nearly didn't go that way. Any artist's comeback can hinge on second-first impressions. Timberlake reintroduced himself to the world of music with the single "Suit & Tie" and nobody really liked it. I think we all thought JT would come back and reinvent the pop genre once again and it never really happened. "Suit & Tie" was far too safe, it indulged in many of the mainstays of today's stagnant pop scene that we were looking to be saved from.
And then came "Mirrors," a total game-changer. One of the most inventive, creative and downright catchy pop songs of the year, "Mirrors" reminded you how effortlessly Timberlake can pull off this gig. And in all fairness, the majority of the rest of the album followed suit. Generally lauded as more ambitious than either Justified or FutureSexLoveSounds, The 20/20 Experience became one of the biggest selling records worldwide and demonstrated how mainstream pop music doesn't have to be so bloody bland. There may be no man on the planet quite as suave as Timberlake, his vocal swoons from track to track, making for luscious pop tunes. Usually I would use adjectives like "Daring" or "bold" to describe this record, but when you're Justin Timberlake, there's no such thing as taking risks, because you're capable of pretty much everything, as is evident by this damn-near perfect pop album. Forget 2 of 2, this is the most complete experience you will encounter when it comes to pop music in 2013. In all honesty, is there anything this man can't do?
Jack Stevenson: This was such a fun album! I've always quite liked Justin Timberlake but I've been kind of put off by some of his lyrics, the "HEY LOOK AT ME I AM SO GOOD AT SEX YOU OVER THERE YOU ARE SHIT AT HAVING SEX AND TO PROVE MY POINT I WILL FUCK YOUR GIRLFRIEND" type. That wasn't completely eradicated on The 20/20 Experience Pt. 1, but it was pretty much drowned out by endearing falsettos and frequent confessions of love and tributes to the virtues of monogamy, it felt like a very different record in that respect. The big singles were catchy as anything, the sheer length of the thing was commendably ambitious, and even when the lyrics felt a bit clunky and weird, they just seemed to take on an even more endearing, almost naive quality. It was a very, very fun pop album and one that is worthy of such a high place. Just don't mention Part 2.
#4: Kanye West - Yeezus
Tony Acero: Admittedly, Yeezus was about as far down on my list as it could be, but there's no denying that the vibe alone of Kanye's work, past and present, is just enough to get him on any Top __ list. The thing about Kanye is that he is not afraid to experiment, and it usually is successful on one degree or another. Yeezus is no different.
First, there are only 10 tracks on the album. While some find the minimalist approach another way to lend credence to Kanye's ever-growing ego, the music is so in your face and jarring that anything more than ten may very well be a bit too much. And if there was any complaint that I'd have for the album, it would in fact be that it comes off as too much at times, but just rarely. It's unique enough to stand on its own, yet has a personality that boasts just as much as Kanye does. Kanye is Kanye, and although it may be hard to separate the man from his work (especially when he has a track titled "I Am A God"), there is still something to be said about the creative genius behind the massive head of West. Yeezus is further proof that a man who is confident enough in what he is doing and creative enough to experiment can go far in terms of success. As I admitted, Yeezus was in the bottom half of my list, but it was still on the list – and not simply because there weren't others out there that may have stood a fighting chance.
Jake St. Pierre: Kanye West...so many adjectives to describe the man, so little time. A recovering gay fish, egomaniac, self-proclaimed fashionista, musical genius, Hobbit-lover, among others. Yeezus is without a doubt the most divisive album Kanye has ever put out. I don't think one could even debate that, and I'll go as far as to say that it's the most divisive album of the year. One side of the hip-hop community laughed this off as Kanye's attempt to be edgy and cool, but failing miserably, citing his blatant rip-off of the superior Death Grips and his admittedly subpar lyrics. While not as original as what Death Grips has done with projects such as The Money Store and No Love Deep Web, I fall on the other side of the fence regarding Yeezus. When I first heard the album, I was hooked. "On Sight" comes at you like a ton of bricks with its lasery synths and abrasive Daft Punk production, as well as a jarring interlude of a choir singing "Sermon (He'll Give Us What We Really Need)" as what could be referred to as a reminder of what Kanye used to be.
Throughout the 40:01 of this album, it's readily apparent that the vulnerable, socially conscious Kanye West of The College Dropout is long gone, replaced by an egomaniacal, blasphemous, and charismatic icon. The smooth flows and heartfelt lyrics of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy have also skipped out, being replaced by AutoTune, shrieking, and shouted lyrics that don't amount to much but your usual rap clichés. But considering that on the surface, he's looked to divulge everything that made him unique, he executes this album remarkably well. Every artist needs to evolve, and as controversial and off-putting as Kanye the man is, he's one of the artists that you can always expect to change up a formula before it gets tired. Yeezus is without the most drastic shift in Kanye West's career, whether that conclusion comes from the odd (yet strangely gripping) Nina Simone sample on "Blood on the Leaves" or the blaring sirens of "Send It Up." Personally, for all its flaws and lyrical shortcomings, I adore Yeezus. I can't say that it's Ye's best album quite yet, but it would put up a damn good fight with what I think is his best, Graduation. It isn't my favorite project of the year either (that would go to Joey Bada$$'s stunningly good Summer Knights) but Kanye hasn't made it easy. He continues to stay in his own lane, a lane he rules with an iron fist.
#3: Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP 2
Tony Acero: I must first confess my bias towards Eminem. When he was putting out absolute crap, I was touting the line of absolute fandom to the point that friends would sit me down to try and explain just why he wasn't the Eminem of the old. I understood, and I agreed, but I still stood by the fact that even the worst Eminem is a better rapper than the best of most rappers out there. Then we come to 2013, and the murmurs of a new album rose. The world went into a flurry when the title of the album came out, and just like that, Marshall Mathers LP II became the most anticipated album of the year, especially for me.
Once the album came out, it did not disappoint. Within the album are so many callbacks to previous efforts, that a pen and pad wouldn't be enough to track them all down. Sometimes as blatant as the first track of the album, "Bad Guy," where the brother of Stan from "Stan" is grown up and tracks down Eminem to kill her. Sometimes they are just quick lines like in "Rap God" where he mentions the blanked out verse from "I'm Back." Speaking of "Rap God," Eminem returns to great form that you have to hear to believe. The album has a resurgence of energy that Eminem hasn't had for quite some time, and if Recovery was his own recovery, MMLPII was Eminem's official return to form. The cadence he carries, the words he's able to twist, and the new ways he is able to manipulate is simply untouchable, and in case you were wondering where Eminem went all these years, this is his official return to the Eminem I know and love.
Daniel Wilcox: I didn't pay too much attention to the critical reception to The Marshall Mathers LP 2 because when it comes to Eminem, I'm incredibly bias. There isn't an Eminem record I haven't enjoyed, including Encore even though I'll freely admitted it's his weakest effort. Relapse and Recovery were both around the top of my year-end lists when they were released, so it's no surprise that this record is up there as well. The album is aptly named, because I don't think Marshall Mathers has released anything this impressive since the first Marshall Mathers LP. I know it's been said, but just listen to "Rap God." That is just an amazing track. I can appreciate that the beat is somewhat pedestrian, but the rap is just out of this world. The lyricism is on point, the humor is at the right level but it's just flat out impressive.
On The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Eminem is well aware of both his age and his place in the history of hip hop. His equal parts regretful and unashamed. The record's themes switch from reflection on his own behaviors and troubled life to acceptance of who he is and what he has become. It doesn't matter how good you are, however, or how important you are to the genre, if you stop growing you stop being relevant, and off the back of Relapse and Recovery, Eminem was beginning to stagnant, not necessarily in terms of quality but in terms of importance. On this record, Eminem shows more maturity and growth than he has in a decade and it makes for an incredible album. It's a performance, a work of art. The guest spots are few and far between but they're perfect. Rihanna features on the infectious "Monster," and fun's Nate Reuss provides the perfect foil for the touching "Headlights," an apology to Debbie Mathers. Kendrick Lamar shows up and delivers the goods, and it's very telling that Em was one of the few to be brought into the criticism in his "Control" verse this year. This album cements Eminem's status as untouchable. "Rap God" sounds about right.
#2: Lorde - Pure Heroine
Daniel Wilcox: Ah yes, Lorde. Is she successful because she's a 21st century pop star who hasn't gone down the Miley, Gaga, Ke$ha route of shocking the media to sell records, or is she successful in spite of being a 21st century pop star who hasn't gone down the route of Miley, Gaga, Ke$ha and the like? Either way, it's been a massive year for Lorde. A cynical man would suggest that such fame and popularity so young will lead to a future of drugs, rehabilitation and sex tapes, but one would hope the current generation has seen that happen enough times that someone, at some point, must be able to avoid the obvious pit falls. Let's hope so.
I would be lying if I thought Pure Heroine deserved to rank this highly on any year-end list, but I am happy to admit that the reason it's here is because Lorde has touch the music-loving public in a way that most pop stars never could – she's genuine, and her music's her own. You didn't hear "Royals" on the radio all summer because it's what the record execs wanted you to hear, you heard it because the public latched on to it. They chose Lorde as their, for lack of a less pun-centric word, heroine and she's ran with it. I don't think Pure Heroine reinvents the wheel but it does have some incredibly catchy tunes - "Tennis Courts" is a favorite and yes, I've heard "Royals" enough that it's attached itself to my ear drums and declared itself one of the songs of the year. What's great about this record is that you'd never know it was an artist's debut. The songwriting is of the highest quality and it makes you wonder just how much more there is to come from this teen hottie young, independent starlet. If she can avoid those pit falls and the average music fan proves themselves to not be as fickle as we think, Lorde certainly has a tremendous future ahead of her, without question.
Jeremy Thomas: Lorde was my absolute, #1 favorite discovery of 2013. There's no way to get around what a breath of fresh air she is for pop music. Now, was that breath a distinctly manufactured one? Perhaps, perhaps not; the answer will probably vary depending on peoples' cynicism about the music industry. But whether her anti-commercialism in pop message is sincere or not, it is a message that desperately needed to be heard. The key with Lorde is (and you can debate the truth behind this or not), she sounds authentic. And I don't mean that she has that chanteuse sound (although there are elements of that). I mean that she sings about things that sound appropriate for a sixteen year-old girl to sing about, except that she manages to make it sound not banal and pointless.
Pure Heroine is pop bliss. Yes, everyone has of course heard "Royals" but for my money that's not even one of the better songs on the album. I enjoy it, don't get me wrong. But when you compare it to "Glory and Gore," "Team," "Tennis Court" and the rest of the tracks it just pales. A lot of focus has been put on her age, and that isn't because of the usual reason--acting out and going wild--but instead because her music sounds so damned mature. The truth is, Lorde is a stunningly good artist for any age and it is even more surprising when you realize that she's as young as she is. The backlash against her has already begun but I'm having none of it; for my money she was the best new act to come out of 2013 and Pure Heroine was absolutely one of my top albums of the year. Glad to see the staff is right along my line of thinking.
#1: Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
Daniel Wilcox: OK fellow 411 colleagues, hands in the air, how many of you voted Random Access Memories purely off the back of "Get Lucky"? Most of us, right? Insert one of those half-Chandlers here, if you wish. It never fails to amaze me when you have the likes of Miley Cyrus, whose music dominated the charts off the back of a long line of publicity stunts, Tweets, twerks and ridiculous social media spats. Could you imagine how few albums she would see if her she did as much promotion for her singles as Daft Punk did. You know how Daft Punk sold records this year? They made good music.
It was announced in Spring that a new Daft Punk record was due in mere weeks, and the internet pretty much blew. You'd have thought Daniel Bryan pinned John Cena clean for the world title only for Triple H and Randy Orton to screw him out of the title or something. "Get Lucky" was everywhere this year. Hell, between that and "Blurred Lines," Pharell Williams had one of the best years of his career and he did next to nothing! I'm not going to sit here and pretend that Random Access Memories is my favorite album of all time, or even the year, because it's not. You take this album out of its context and pop it into its own bubble, I find it to be self-indulgent and at over 70-minutes long it takes some effort to digest in one go. "The Game of Love" and "Within" are beautiful songs of the utmost quality, they're phenomenal, but such moments of perfection are few and far between. But in the context of what 2013 had to offer and what other pop acts are bringing to the table, Random Access Memories is everything the industry needs. It's not a wakeup call, because if you're not already on board then it's going to leave you behind and you're never going to catch up and that's where the album fails, it's almost too good, it's too perfect. It's an album that attempts to bring the human element back to the charts dominated by robotic EDM, but it offers such an idealistic view of the genre that it's almost impossible to fully comprehend its brilliance.
Daft Punk honor the '70s and '80s music that inspired them to take the dance world by storm, and in just four albums the band has owned, disregarded and bought back the entire genre. They've superseded what they set out to achieve and they've become the unstoppable franchise. As a piece of art, I don't think there are many albums that actually come close to Random Access Memories this year. But in being so bold and daring, Daft Punk have almost taken the fun out of their own record. It's the big reveal at the end of the game show when the host brings out the mammoth prize the contestant has failed to win. Random Access Memories is near-perfect, if only it didn't take itself so seriously.
Tony Acero: Oh Daft Punk, you great, great duo of music. Before I go into depth as to why this album is number one in our hearts and this site, check out an in-depth look at the album by our own Sean Comer in his column Give Life Back to Music. It's a great look at an album that transcends the year in terms of music.
In terms of Random Access Memories, rarely is there an album that floats above the rest of music throughout the year (or years) the way that this album does. Each album is its own trip into a place that is distinct and succinct. Whether you're vibing to the hot song that took over the summer, "Get Lucky," or you feel like taking a literal trip into "Fragments of Time," you're going to be transported into a world. The music is never overbearing or excessive, and nearly every track has its own personality. Typically, and for as long as I can remember, albums have a few standout tracks, and it's truly not "great" unless there's a particular number of tracks that overcome the doldrums of the others. Random Access Memories is an album that is the total inverse, where every track holds a distinct disposition, strong enough to stand on its own while never deviating from the unity of the album. Even within the title of "Random," there are common themes of love, isolation and fun, without any over-the-top laborious nature and, instead, hits a chord within that is every bit as soulful as it is funky, as electric as it is soothing, and is beautiful enough to create an entire album worthy of the title Album of the Year.
And there you have it! Thank you for coming in and reading our list and sounding off in the comments! Here's to a great year of music in 2013!