2013 was a great year in music. So many fantastic albums came out this year that it was hard to pick one to talk about. Classic bands reunited, while others ended their long standing hiatuses. Since so many artists released new material that was attention grabbing, I decided this year to countdown the best albums of the year, with the top pick being revealed later in the week.
10. The 20/20 Experience– Justin Timberlake
Justin kept fans waiting for seven years before the release of his next album, but at least it was worth it. While the second part to this album is unnecessary and nothing but filler, the first part is filled with danceable hits, sultry slow jams, and undeniable grooves. While it may not be Timberlake’s finest work, it’s still a vast improvement of his 2006 effort Furturesex/Lovesounds. Though I can applaud him for taking risks and trying out new things, it still has its fault with the biggest problem being song length. For some reason Justin felt the urge to make every song at least six minutes long. This wouldn’t be so bad if it actually added something to the track, but most of the time it’s just annoying harmonies. He still didn’t learn his lesson and committed the same crime for the album he released later in the year.
9. 13– Black Sabbath
The fact that Black Sabbath reunited with Ozzy Osbourne was amazing. What is even more shocking is that they released new music and it actually sounds great. For me the issue with well established metal bands making new albums is that the songs are not as good and I thought the same would be the case for this release. Luckily, I was wrong. While it’s not my most favorite release of the year, it’s still damn good. What I really like about it is how they capture the darkness and brutality of 1970’s Paranoid. I really appreciate how they stick with what they know. They didn’t try to keep up with current music trends or anything like that. They made fantastic heavy metal music like they have for years. Even if the original line up never does another album, at least we got one of their finest in years. Plus, any Black Sabbath album without Ozzy is just wrong.
8. Tears on Tape– HIM
Though they were only gone for about three years, HIM’s absence was largely felt by fans everywhere. They returned this year with the dark romantic album Tears on Tape. Though it still has the classic HIM sound fans fell in love with, the album shows how they have grown as both songwriters and musicians. Ville Valo paints darkly beautiful and haunting images with his lovely voice. Though the tracks here are slower and moodier than before, with intriguing lyrics and big booming sounds, the album manages to keep things going. There are times where the record harkens back to the band’s biggest release Love Metal, yet it never sounds like they’re ripping themselves off. It’s definitely a return to form for the guys and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next year.
7. INVSN– INVSN
I was lucky enough to actually speak with this band and see them live and they are absolutely amazing. Dennis Lyzxen is not new to the music scene. He fronted both The Refused and The (International) Noise Conspiracy. His new band takes influence from the greatest alt rock bands of the 80’s, such as The Cure and Joy Division, while infusing some punk and new wave to create a different sound. The results are songs that are thought provoking, energetic, and raw as hell. Of course nothing beats seeing them live where Lyzxen shows how he has energy to spare as he dances and jumps around the stage. Their self titled debut is amazing from start to finish and anyone who loves those alt rock bands of the 1980’s will instantly fall in love with the record.
6. Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action- Franz Ferdinand
It’s been awhile since we heard from the Scottish band, but this year they returned with their stunning fourth studio album. Though it initially got some positive reviews, enough wasn’t said about the record. It has got to be one of their best albums since their debut. The songs are fun, catchy, and kind of weird just like the band themselves. Unlike their past albums, this one is more on the experimental side with songs like “Evil Eye,” which has a creepy, sinister vibe and “Stand on the Horizon,” which sounds like it takes inspiration from Abba. The entire album is amazing enough where you don’t want to skip any songs. Instead you want to hear them again and again. Hopefully, the band’s next release will be just as promising.
5. Delta Machine– Depeche Mode
The legendary Depeche Mode returned this year with one of the strongest efforts of their later career. While the album can never beat the classics like Music for the Masses and Violator, it’s still a really solid effort. Here there are songs that sound like the band we know and love, but there are others that find them playing around with their musical influences. Songs like “Heaven,” “Goodbye,” and “Slow” have elements of Blues and R&B in them, while others like “My Little Universe” expand more on the synth pop they made so popular in the 80’s. There isn’t a single disappointing track to be found here. Each song is filled with the haunting and heavenly imagery that is found in some of their biggest hits. And as always with Depeche Mode there are songs that make you want to dance. It’s great to hear from these synth pioneers, especially since their future remained uncertain for a while. Let’s hope they have at least one more great album in them before they call it quits.
4. Melophobia– Cage the Elephant
For their highly anticipated album, Cage the Elephant went in a different musical direction. Wild guitar solos and unhinged, raw vocals from singer Matt Shultz are replaced with psychedelic licks, a mellow attitude, and experimentation across musical genres. Even though they changed up their sound they still manage to make an album that makes them stand out from the others. This is also my pick for underrated album of the year. The album did get great reviews, but I still feel like not enough people took notice to it. It’s a great record where every song is a hit. Some will have you dancing like an idiot while others will have you singing along. While some may yearn for their wild, rampant sound, this shows they are willing to change things up. One thing for sure is they know how to keep it exciting and fresh.
3. Hesitation Marks- Nine Inch Nails
This stellar album was all about Trent Reznor revisiting and avoiding his past demons. Much in kin to his 1994 masterpiece The Downward Spiral, the music here ranges from aggressive (“Came Back Haunted”) to surprisingly upbeat and hopeful (“Everything”). There are plenty of moments on the album that recall Reznor’s past work, yet the music is still fresh and exciting enough to keep listeners engaged. There are a number of hits on the record like “Came Back Haunted,” “Satellite,” or the funk inspired “All Time Low” that proves Reznor came back with something to prove. Not only does the music sound great, but the concept of him looking back and openly saying he’s afraid of becoming who he used to be is intriguing. It would’ve been easy for Trent to play the used, broken, and lonely card, but being a married man with an Oscar attached to his name, he knows honesty is the best way to go.
2. The Marshall Mathers LP 2– Eminem
Eminem had a lot to live up to when naming his eighth studio album after his best selling 2000 release. Luckily, he was able to live up to the hype. This album makes several clever references to his past work without coming off as corny, such as the genius “Bad Guy,” which is actually a follow up to “Stan.” He even brings back the lovable, yet troublesome Slim Shady, which fans have loved so far. This is the album that feels most like the rapper you fell in love with back in the late 90’s. He’s not so strung out on drugs that he’s barely making sense, like on Encore and Relapse, but he’s also not violently fighting his inner demons, like on 2010’s Recovery. While some of the songs are questionable, the rest are amazing with some of the stand outs being “Rap God,” “So Much Better,” and “Rhyme or Reason.” It just shows when Eminem speaks, everyone listens.
So who’s at number 1? The best album of 2013 will be revealed this week in a solo article. Check back soon!