Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Top 10 albums of 2013

It's that time again - Top 10 of 2013 + the runners-up. The usual applies - collected strictly from things I've reviewed on here or posted to Popmatters. This was a tough call - so many went into and out of the top 10 before finally settling. As previously, the higher entries leading up to #1 - all achieve a higher rating just on being "End to end perfect" - ones where I feel there is not a single skippable track on the disc. Without further ado:
The Runners-Up

3OH3 - Omens
JT - 20/20 Experience

10.KT Tunstall - Invisible Empire

KT has a strong set of pipes, and this is clearly the "mourning lost romance" disc for her, and while catharsis in song can be a workable way to get your musical point across, her message gets lost in the production.  It's all pretty and well played, but so quiet and mixed in a way that her voice and every instrument accompanying it seems to fade into the background mere seconds after the note is played.  That said, it's still a reasonable effort from KT - though it makes the listener hope for a more lively performance next time around.

9.DM - Delta Machine

Depeche Mode set the bar too high with 2005's "Playing the angel" - they just haven't hit that high again and it shows.  On this album the deluxe edition B-sides often outshine the 13 "chosen" cuts (see "All that's mine" for sure proof of that) and while they continue to mine a fruitful partnership with producer Hillier, and working again with Flood, this album suffers from one crippling problem - it just doesn't linger like their classics do.  It's all pleasant, but it isn't something you yearn to dig back into and hear again the way you might with Violator or Black Celebration.  Talented band still, just not as good as they could be.

8.Dido - Girl who got away

While her last album was a hushed, stripped-down brooding affair, awash in heartbreak - this album is an about face.  It's the sound of Dido happy in motherhood and more accepting of even life's most painful moments.  From "No Freedom" onward this is apparent, even more so with "Let Us Move On."  She doesn't keep the momentum up nearly as well later on, but otherwise a solid effort.

Another discovered on a lark - this one via a link to the goofy fun of "Thrift Shop." On giving the full album a listen, a round of refreshing hip hop emerged. More than that, it impressed for touching issues hip hop rarely delves into. It can sink into self-consciousness at times, but when it hits home, it hits home hard.

6.Cher - Closer to the truth

While Cher leans a bit too heavily on the auto-tune, when she does let her voice through, it shines, and is especially impressive for sounding as good as it does for a late-career comeback from someone who most had assumed finally was done (in spite of how many times her "farewell" tour in the early 2000's was extended.)

5.Youngblood Hawke - Wake Up

This band was a double threat - first had the chance to see them randomly as openers for Keane in January. Later in the year, I had the chance to do a write-up for them on Popmatters. The bubbly indie-rock-pop they traffic in can seem a bit directionless at times, but this never takes away from the appeal. With a little more focus on future releases, they can only get better.

This was a band I discovered on accident - the name sounded intriguing and the genre was one I enjoyed, so I sent it as a pick for popmatters.  What I discovered was an engaging slice of unabashedly 80's cheese-pop - the GOOD kind of cheese pop, mind you.  They wear their 80's flag proudly, and the falsetto, beats, and overall construct fit the hyper-mythos they have constructed as a framework for their music.  Catchy as all get-out gems like "Alive" make this an effervescent slice of 80's pop heaven.

It's a strange thing to do to call an album so soaked in pop sensibilities "Save Rock 'n Roll" but Stump and crew pull it off. Bottom line is, while it may be soaked in these sensibilities, they are adept at fusing classic rock and roll sounds with pop, hip hop, R&B, and everything in between. As with the rest at this level on the list, a nearly perfect end-to-end sequence lands this entry at # on the list.

Pet Shop Boys come back to the "bangers" they have been known for in the past. They did this trick once before in 1999, when "Nightlife" sped things up, coming out as it did after a trio of more slowed-down, introspective discs. This time, they released Electric to counter the subdued and almost funereal (but by no means bad) predecessor "Elysium." Only a handful of tracks that don't quite hit as effectively as classics like "Axis" and "Vocal" keep this one from the top spot.

1.OneRepublic - Native

This one hits the top spot for a variety of reasons. The refreshing idea of the architect behind pop hits of others trying to sing with a band of his own - and doing it well is one reason. And yes, even though the live performances lack the clearly pitch-corrected sheen of some of these tracks, Tedder still has an impressive set of pipes, as confirmed through a few live performances - specifically of this album's crown jewel "If I Lose Myself" - there is arguably no finer slice of pop heaven that has come out this year. This track + the gospel-infused pop that goes all over the map but still manages to hit all the right notes makes this my pick amongst the choices for #1 of 2013.

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