Tuesday, December 31

Albums of the Year 2013

It's that time of the year again, where everyone makes a top 10 album list and pretends it's the most important list of all time. But mine really is the most important list of all time.

10. Justin Timberlake - 2020 Experience 2 of 2: JT redeemed himself after the pretentious and sleepy Part 1 with a smoother, more upbeat Part 2. The "luxury pop" ideals are mostly gone, instead replaced with songs that Timberlake appears to sing from the heart. "Not a Bad Thing" is the best song JT has made since 2006 and one of my favorite songs from this year. And his producer Timbaland toned down his ridiculous mouth sound effects and overall annoying-ness. Once again, the album does drag on with extremely long songs, but that's what the "next" button is for. Other standouts include Murder, Take Back the Night and TKO.

9. Search the City - Flight: While most pop-punk bands have been reduced to played-out impressions of 2002-era Fall Out Boy, the Detroit-based Search the City managed to make a creative record using guitars and drums (shocking, I know). Lead singer Travis Bobier's voice matches the band's soaring riffs and dramatic storytelling. Very solid album. Standout songs: Syndicated Reality, Rewrite the Ending, Heart Strings and The Runaways.

8. MS MR - Secondhand Rapture: This New York duo made a surprisingly great indie-pop record. Distant synths and thundering percussion works perfectly with Lizzy Plapinger's smooth vocals. Catchy, and I seem to get a lot of work done when it plays. Standout tracks: Hurricane, Fantasy, This Isn't Control and Think of You.

7. St. Lucia - When The Night: The 80s called and want their pop band back. Seriously, if it weren't for the slick production and fact that I can listen to this album on Spotify, I'd think I time-traveled and bought this on cassette. There is a dream-like haziness to each of the songs, but they are brought to life with a touch of funk. Thanks to Molly T. for showing me this band. Standout songs: The Night Comes Again, The Way You Remember Me, Wait For Love and Closer Than This.

6. A Day to Remember - Common Courtesy: I did not expect this one. ADTR made one of the most surprising albums of the year. Instead of going the hardcore route, as many of their fans demand, they created one of the catchiest pop-punk albums in years. Passionate lyrics and vocals from Jeremy McKinnon bring out the familiar energy from the Florida band. But this time they managed to corral it into a cohesive album with pop hits and headbangers alike. Even the screaming is tolerable. Standouts: Right Back at it Again, I Surrender, I Remember, Leave All the Lights On, Good Things.

5. Paramore - Paramore: After an ugly split saw two members depart the band, Paramore returned with a solid release. Each song is a little more stripped down than past Paramore tracks, which lets Haley Williams' voice take over. Lyrically, Paramore took all the previous drama head on and really opened up with some personal stories. The energy of the album is a welcome change from the last album and gives the impression the band is having fun again. Standouts: Now, Ain't It Fun, Grow Up, Still Into You and Day Dreaming.

4. Volcano Choir - Repave: Justin Vernon's band Bon Iver took home my album of the year in 2011, and his work in this band is no slouch either. Almost like Explosions in the Sky meets Calgary. While this version features Vernon's versatile voice over more prog-rock sounds, the "wintry Wisconsin night" vibes remain. The raw emotion is there, the lyrics have meaning and the production is clean. While I'll probably never listen to a few of the albums on this list again, this will certainly sound good in a few years. Standouts: Bygone, Alaskans, Comrade.

3. Fall Out Boy - Save Rock and Roll: FOB reunited, released a single and video out of nowhere and proved to be one of the most creative rock groups in the game. Instead of rehashing old pop-punk cliches or trying to recapture lost magic, the Patrick Stump-fronted band created something totally new. Guitars were replaced with synths and drum machines, which is a logical evolution in today's music scene. The head scratching lyrics and massive choruses are back, but assists from Foxes and even Elton John make this album surprisingly fresh. Let's just ignore Big Sean and Courtney Love's terrrrrrible verses. Stump's vocals are better than ever, and his solo work is an obvious influence. This album also got me through the absolute boredom of training for a marathon. Standouts: Alone Together, Just One Yesterday, Young Volcanoes and  Miss Missing You.

2. The 1975 - The 1975: I think this album was made in 1983, forgotten and then someone found it in a basement and reproduced it with modern technology. Perfect blend of pop rock. Very catchy, unique vocals and a solid variety of songs makes this one of the best albums of 2013. The beaming positivity mixes great with the huge percussion, which in turn makes each subtle sound effect stand out. Menswear is one of my favorite songs from this year as well, but the album includes other great tracks like The City, Chocolate and Girls.

1. Lorde - Pure Heroine: It seemed like the song Royals came out of nowhere and has refused to disappear since the summer. This album is pop music, but it isn't made for the club, twerking or the latest Beats by Dre commercial. Instead, we are left with a dark and cynical album from a teenager who throws shade at Selena Gomez. Each song has a very strong hip-hop vibe without trying too hard (looking at you Miley). Her lyrics are interesting, sometimes funny and the cadence at which she delivers them makes this a very unique album. Tennis Courts is the song of 2013, and the line "It looked alright in the pictures" is the ultimate too-cool-for-school teenage moment. Her outsider's persona probably won't last, but at least we can enjoy it for now. Standouts: Team, Ribs, A World Alone and obviously Tennis Courts. Obviously.

Here's a playlist with a fire flames song from each album, plus a bonus One Direction song, because I'm not scared:

By Aaron Brandt, professional blogger.