Many of us have more favorites than we listed here, and we crave new music! So join the conversation below via the comments section. Try to pick out three of your favorite records of 2013 and share them. We’re always on the hunt for fresh sounds. After all: It’s our collective love of the music that drives this endless audible quest!
Stan Ahn's Favorite Albums
So much good music in 2013 and so little time to listen to it all. No matter how particular your tastes, I think finding new material that you would love is a matter of looking, and it's conceivable that even if we could only listen to each song, each piece, each track only once, never repeating, we could still easily fill our days with good music.
Of course, if you really connect with a piece, you'll want to listen to it more than once. Our auditory memory - our ability to remember sounds accurately - is pretty piss poor, but the emotional memory formed and evoked by music has to be among the most powerful forces of recall. And you usually need to listen to a track a number of times before it, in essence, becomes part of the soundtrack of your life at that time: Memory formed, stored, and available to transport you back whenever you wish.
The albums that I chose to write about, among the many that became a part of my soundtrack this year, reflect my general musical tastes as well as an admittedly limited exposure to a huge number of releases this year. No matter, I absolutely love these three albums. All are generally laid-back, involve varying degrees of analog synths and other electronic instrument sounds, and are largely carried on the strength of unique vocals and vocalists.
Atoms for Peace - Amok
If you like clicks and bleeps, warm analog synths, complex polyrhythms, unorthodox time and key signatures, and/or Radiohead, then you'll probably dig this album.
In typical Thom Yorke fashion, experimentation is the rule, not the exception, and despite all the use of electronic instruments, no two bars of music throughout the entire album are identical, since all rhythmic elements are constantly varied, altered and sometimes mangled, giving the album a decidedly human groove throughout. With Yorke's stringy lead vocal and his haunting harmonies layered on top of guitars, bass, vintage analog synthesizers and what I'd imagine as a drum machine run by miniature humans inside the enclosure, he and his band somehow manages to make it work. Key tracks: Default, Amok.
Houses - A Quiet Darkness
I really wish I remembered where I first heard or heard of the band Houses. It's unusual for me to have a song stuck in my head after one listening, but that's what happened with Houses' The Beauty Surrounds, the second track on their third full-length album.
The tracks are plaintive, emotive, and breezy. What I love about this band is the haunting nature of their vocals, whereby all tracks are sung by both members of the band, a female wispy vocal sung mostly one octave above a Chris Martinesque male lead vocal.
It's surprisingly beautiful and I wonder why more musicians don't use this technique. Key Tracks: The Beauty Surrounds, Peasants.
Emiliana Torrini - Tookah
What I don't get is how a tiny country with a population of a little more than three-hundred thousand - equivalent to about 6 Manhattan city blocks - can produce such amazing artists as Bjork, Sigur Ros, and Emiliana Torrini.
Torrini's latest is full of idiosyncratic melodies and warm analog synths, but if you know Torrini, you'll likely point to her sweet, girl-like singing voice as the reason to take a listen to her music.
I never tire of hearing it, and don't think I could if I tried. Key Tracks: Tookah, Caterpillar
Arly Borges's Favorite Albums
Music is the sole reason why I got into this hobby. While others call themselves audiophiles, I balk at being labeled, and would rather be considered a music nut instead.
It all started back one summer in 1981 when I was 11 years old. It was summer vacation, I was bored silly, and there was nothing good on TV. I turned to my parents and complained about having nothing to do. Being rather busy doing adult stuff, Dad blurted out, "try amusing yourself listening to music on the radio."
That was the beginning of it all. And 3 decades later here I am. Hope you enjoy my selections. A little warning - I tend to listen to stuff from all over the map nowadays.
Gemini Syndrome - Lux
I learned about these guys through fellow Audio360 writer, Kevin Venable, who is also a close personal friend of the lead singer, Aaron Nordstrom.
Gemini Syndrome is a mainstream alternative metal band hailing from the Los Angeles music scene. Lux is a 12 track tour de force blending various musical elements such as progressive, nu metal, and screamo.
It's a definite must listen and a great stocking stuffer for the young metal head in the family.
Armin Van Buuren - A State of Trance 2013
Armin is back with the 2013 installment of his A State of Trance series.
Armin Van Buuren has become one of the premier DJ's on the globe for a reason and A State Of Trance 2013 demonstrates why. A State Of Trance 2013 is a double CD mixed by whom other, Armin Van Buuren himself.
The first album titled On The Beach is a collection of mellow tracks mixed with soothing piano notes and vocals designed to relax the listener. The second CD titled In The Club kicks it up a notch and throws out the hard beats. Far from soothing it's a CD designed to get the blood pumping and get you jumping out of your chair and dancing.
School of 7 Bells - Ghostory
School of 7 Bells is a duo from Brooklyn New York who run the gamut with electronica, shoegaze and dream pop.
Ghost Story is the third album release by School of 7 Bells and is a 9 track concept album detailing the experiences of a young girl named Lafaye and the ghosts that haunt her life. Ghost Story is a fantastic album meant to be listened to as a whole.
Throughout the album the listener is greeted with a nice smattering of layered dance beats and ambient electronica giving the album an ethereal dreamy like feel... a must listen for the pop rocker/electro buff looking for something different and slightly off the mainstream path.
Warren Chi's Favorite Albums
Casual conversations about the current state of pop culture often die young and well before their time. This is typically at the hands of those who would rather not participate, but cannot walk away for fear of being labeled dull and uncultured.
And so, with perfunctory generalizations and apocryphal anecdotes at hand, they murder any and all insights before they can be given breath or life, leaving a trail of stillborn thoughts hanging in the air. Why do they do this? Because they are dull and uncultured.
"This is the new that" they declare, while contradictorily conceding that "the more things change, the more they stay the same." But that's alright, because then it's "retro" or "vintage" - and thus deserving of our feigned admiration. Just what is this fascination with anachronicity?
And my favorite as of late? "The Eighties are back." What?! No, no, no my friends... the Eighties are not back. They never left!
As a child of the Eighties, I kept those synthesized fires burning deep within my psyche, waiting to be unleashed in a new wave of music. And so it was for me, that 2013 became the year I was harkened back to my unspoiled youth - or something like it.
Superhumanoids - Exhibitionists
Superhumanoids is a Los Angeles based synth pop band that's been touring and writing music for the past four years. They first popped onto my radar earlier this summer with the release of their second album - and debut LP - Exhibitionists. Their liberal use of synths and drum machines had me at hello.
"So Strange" - The closest thing to a hit single on this album, "So Strange" blends together elements from Fleetwood Mac, Duran Duran and Dream Academy into an uptempo pop tune that is the album's hook track.
"Do You Feel That" - Somewhat more subdued, but still toe-tappingly jovial, "Do You Feel That" reminds me of that time when The Moody Blues got it on with The Alan Parsons Project - which never happened of course.
Also worth listening: "Bad Weather" & "See It All"
Delorean - Apar
The best genius is accidental... which is why I'm delighted to report some of the best "Eighties" music I've heard comes from a new-millenium band focused on Balearic dance music. I don't know how Delorean is going to feel about me calling their music Eighties-esque, but I hope they understand that I mean it as a compliment.
"Spirit" - A veritable technopop potpourri, I'm hearing a mashup of Depeche Mode, Anything Box, Erasure and several other elements that I can't quite put my finger on. The synth choir samples are a particularly nostalgic touch.
"Walk High" - It's really too bad this song wasn't around 30 years ago. It would have made a perfect opener (or closer) for a John Hughes or Howard Deutch film. It's one of those instantly-enjoyable but completely-forgettable tracks that live only for the moment.
"Dominion" - Ever wonder what it's like to hear a band channel Erasure and OMD at the same time? Wonder no more.
Vondelpark - Seabed
I discovered this album long after it was released in March, based on a recommendation from my friend Romy. But this was definitely a case of better late than never. For me, Seabed was the musical equivalent of a tranquilizer dart. It doesn't exactly knock me out, but it sedates me within seconds. If you're looking for some peace and quiet without resorting to absolute silence, Seabed is the chill pill you need to take.
"Quest" - Hey! It's the guy from Bloc Party, backed by the Alan Parsons Project, recording a long-lost tune originally written for Sade! You'll understand what I mean when you give it a listen.
"Come On" - Wow, when did the Simply Red guys have kids that formed a band? This is just a single well-timed sax solo away from greatness.
Scot Hull's Favorite Albums
I'm gonna have to confess something -- I'm not current.
I know, you're stunned, but attempt to contain your wild protestations. In point of fact, I'm so far behind "cutting edge" that I may as well be poking about in the rubbish bins of audio history. Which I do, and regularly.
No, when it comes to new music -- stuff released in the last year -- I'm a bit like the vampire attempting to bootstrap himself into "the current era". I just dive in and see what I can sink my teeth into.Unfortunately for me, there wasn't a lot of music steak being offered up as steak this year.
Depeche Mode's Delta Machine, wasn't just forgettable, it was just plain bad, as if one of my favorite college bands suddenly forgot not only who they were but how to actually put together pieces to make songs.
NIN's latest Hesitation Marks frustrated me enough to actually go out and buy one of their old good albums, but nothing on their new album actually stuck. It wasn't really rounding out to be a particularly awesome new-music year. [Sigh].
I had a few near misses, including Fall Out Boy's latest, Save Rock And Roll. This album starts strong and shows a veteran band clearly comfortable with their "sound". Promising!
The first cut, "The Phoenix", kinda sounds like two songs woven together, which is seamless and clever; this is something of a trend in the songs here, one that I think shows some real craftsmanship. As for the lyrics, well, there's a bit of whiz with the cheese and a couple of cringe-worthy choices, but who cares. It's fun.
The second tune in the lineup, "Light 'Em Up", is completely different and completely the same - sketches of separate tunes woven together, each with their own engaging choruses, with great build-up and plenty to hold on to.
The third, "Alone Together", marks a shift toward the anthemic, but again, shot through with structural cleverness and topical lyrics.
And then... well, the rest of the album is a bit of a stuttering slide downhill, and the two "features", one with Courtney Love and other with Elton John, are best left skipped. Like, entirely skipped.
Overall, the sound is more "pop" than "hard rock", but maybe this is what passes for Van Halen these days? Anyway, there's definitely passion paired with a naïve sort of angst that's really quite approachable, even if the mastering seems to have left the sound clipped all to hell.
With Graceless, from Sulk, we're on more sure footing. The band takes more than a few pages out of the Stone Roses' handbook, but if imitation is the sincerest form of blah blah blah... I like this album.
The opener, "Sleeping Beauty", is my favorite, and if you're at all engaged by the the sonic wall of sound that wraps around some breezy vocals and catchy guitar riffs, you're gonna love the album because that's pretty much the recipe.
There's at least 5 different "releasable" singles off this album, each with a bit of textural variation; altogether "not bad" for a freshman outing. Not my usual cuppa, but a happy election to the Best of 2013 platform; this one is still in rotation.
Next up is Push The Sky Away from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, which is their 512th studio album. With a near spoken-word kind of delivery, age doesn't seem to have done anything except burnish the baritone and deepen the melancholy. Signature songwriting skills are on offer, but the sparse presentation and lightly textured ambient menace marks this album as a bit of a departure for Cave.
It's all... quiet-like. Reflective. More moody. This is like Tom Waits, before (or way after) the binge. Lou Reed, sometime after he left the underground. Jim Morrison, but with an editor and a time-limit.
There's deep wisdom in these tracks and favorite stops are hard to pick, as the whole actually feels like an album, with songs linked by something more than accident if not any actual outright theme. Like a map, say, acid-etched by pain and worn not like a badge, but perhaps a blanket pulled tight, a fading memory stretched over still-living skin. Okay, that was a little much, but that's the kind of dark little corner I found myself spinning in after a play-through.
If I had to pick, "We Real Cool" is worth lifting out for that bass line overlaid with the floating violins, but start with "We No Who U R" and play this one straight through. In fact, get the vinyl and just be done with it. When it's time to drop the needle, make sure there's ice and bourbon on hand, because this diversion through memory lane is is gonna leave a mark.
Frank Iacone's Favorite Album
My listening preferences are always geared to well recorded albums. Albums that have dynamic and tuneful sounds with music that is addictive.
I prefer well mastered non compressed recordings and found a nugget this year. The music was outstanding. So here is my favorite find this year.
Elvis - Stereo 57
The most exciting recording I heard this year.
This is Elvis in his prime, and an early binaural recording. Stereo 57 bring you into the studio and captures Elvis at 22 years old in his prime. The recording is so good it feels as if Elvis is in the room with you.
There are twenty tracks on this magnificent album. "Have I Told You Lately That I love You" is a standout track. The Jordainaires makes the recording session a musical success. Don't miss this recording. The album is frighteningly realistic and it is most enjoyable to hear what Elvis really sounded like in his prime.
Michael Liang's Favorite Albums
For me, buying and collecting music media is a lifestyle. Every time I see a music store there's an urge to pop in to see what's new. Luckily, we now have music discovery services like Pandora, Spotify, iHeart Radio, and the upcoming BeatsMusic (previously MOG) to feed the addiction. To choose a couple of favorite albums of 2013 is like having to choose your favorite child – impossible - and yet, if it must be done...
Christina Perri - Lovestrong
I'm gonna cheat a little. This pick was not released this year, but since I discovered it this year, it's new to me!
I think she should get as much attention as Adele has. Following the success of her first single "jar of hearts" which sold over 100K digital copies within a month. Singer and songwriter Christina Perri released her first studio album lovestrong in 2011. Fans of The Twilight Saga franchise may also be familiar with her hit single "A Thousand Years".
So if you like Adele, but you need a break from her, check out Christina Perri. She is equally as impressive.
Avicii - True
I was first introduced to Avicii's music last year with his dj mix album "Strictly Miami".
I thought it was good, but not the best I've heard. What caught my attention was his performance in London for iTunes Festival this year.
His mix of songs from his new studio album "True" was absolutely killer. The man can keep the energy at its peak through the entire hour and a half show. The mix gave me a high like being on controlled substances. While True is not a continuous mix album, each track has a lot of energy to keep your feet tapping.
I hope Avicii tours in my city soon.
Michael Mercer's Favorite Albums
Being a music addict first, and an audio freak second, I'm psyched we decided to do a favorites list and not another "Best of 2013" like everybody else. After all: "best", especially when speaking about music, which is an artform, is in the ear of the beholder.
Admittedly, I actually prefer writing music reviews to hardware stuff. I'm not saying I don't enjoy describing the musical performance of a piece of gear that moves me - but when it comes down to it that's merely the vehicle; however you break it down. If the music ain't got soul then it doesn't matter how great your sound system is!
For me, as a music writer always receiving new stuff, and actively seeking both new and old/undiscovered gems, the last few years have been fantastic for fresh, experimental music.
Whether that be ambient, hip hop, dubstep (the likes of artists such as Burial or Eskmo, no Skrillex for me thank you very much), pop, or quirky electronic beats, this year proved a fruitful one. It's been a sincere pleasure digging through all the crates, virtually and physically.
I have other favorites of 2013, but these are decent slices of what's been moving me lately...
Depeche Mode - Delta Machine
I reviewed this record for Positive Feedback earlier this year (found HERE). I'm so sorry my fellow 360 scribe and Part-Time Audiophile Chief Scot Hull found this record to be such a disappointment. But that's art! Though it sounds like both of us were into their records as far back as high school, while he felt like they'd lost their way on Delta Machine, I heard their evolution. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I also love Martin Gore's underground techno records and DJ mixes - but I felt like the synth wave band of the eighties and nineties came back with a vengeance. It's sound is gripping, and the anthemic introduction of "Welcome to My World" made me feel like Gore, the band, and I grew-up, together. The sound is now. It's dark, edgy, visceral electronic melodies drew me in. I was hooked from the first track. Listening to this album, I feel like I'm at an after-party following a killer night out clubbing with my crew of close friends. The darkness hovers through its last hours, and the daylight is closing in. We're dancing our asses off, working out all the stress and bullshit that comes with the everyday grind, gettin' down. It isn't a feel good album. Then again, what Depeche Mode album was? But it does have sharper corners than their past works. It also slams, it's industrial and new. It was right up my alley. If it sounds like something you'd dig I highly recommend giving it a spin.
Alix Perez - Chroma Chords
I wrote about this record for Part-Time Audiophile months ago (HERE) and it's still a part of my daily rotation. Special thanks to my buddy Alex Rosson from Audeze for this recommendation. The record bumps, and does so with style and grit. It jumps from nu skool soul to dubstep, peppered with reggae vibes and forward-thinking electronic music. It's street and avant garde. Sometimes the vocals swoon out at you and back in again, other times they're sampled and panned all over the soundstage. The beats are equally varied in their composition and execution. You can clap and sing to "Annie's Song" (Featuring Sam Willis) or lose yourself in the broken beats and stabs of the title track.
"Chroma Chords" is a fitting title track, as the music is refreshingly diverse during the progression of the single cut. Things go from sounding like a video game exploding slowly, rippling across the stage, to female vocal samples sliding in and out, towards and then back away from the listener. The whole time these synths are engulfing you, the bass is knockin' the bass drivers. It's heaven. Most highly recommended.
Nosaj Thing - Home
I also reviewed this record for Positive Feedback (link HERE)! This album might be my number one of the year. But those things are so tough to figure out, and what's the use? The whole record is silky smooth and hard as nails. The air in and around the synths is sublime. There's a wonderful kinetic flow throughout this LP. It's an ambient joyride. It's compositionally sparse but the sound is full-bodied. Stabs float in space and ping from all angles, while there's constant shifting, ocean-like movement, in the mid to lower midrange. It's like listening to a pristine black and white photograph of modern architecture. If that makes any sense at all! I say that because it sounds modern, it sounds contemporary, and futuristic all at the same time.
Home is my favorite album for driving late at night. The glow of the dash in my Mini while the world sweeps by, yeah, this is the music I need for that. I could also label it minimal electronic ambient music if that helps! Sometimes a record touches you in such a new place that it's difficult to pigeon-hole. It touches some part of you that feels unexplored, and you wanna return to that feeling. That's the case with Nosaj Thing's Home for me. Sometimes it's visual, like glacial or something similar. Maybe none of this makes any sense, but it any of this piques your interest check out some of his music online ASAP! I don't believe you'll regret it.
Lachlan Tsang's Favorite Albums
When I had a look at my iTunes library, I realized that I spent most of 2013 listening to music that was released in 2010-2012, which is hardly helpful for this exercise. Nonetheless, here are a couple of albums that really stood out for me this year.
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
Yeah I know, I know. This will probably be popping up in all kinds of 2013 lists. But actually, this was my first Daft Punk album.
And while everyone tells me this is the outfit returning to their roots in the French discotheque sound, I have to say this album sounded retro-fresh and groovy to me in a way few albums ever have.
I don't dance, I certainly don't plan on losing myself to dance - but this album made me want to shuffle awkwardly throughout 2013.
Dysnomia - Dawn of Midi
I was turned onto this album by an episode of the podcast Radiolab and what can I say - I am an absolute sucker for hypnotically repetitive music.
This instrumental album is an exercise in jerky, inexorably tense and yearning polyrhythm. Play it in the background during any task and it propels you forward like a toy soldier.
I'm not making much sense, but thankfully you can check it out yourself at http://dawnofmidi.bandcamp.com/album/dysnomia
Kevin Venable's Favorite Albums
Only three albums! I am not sure what Warren was smoking. I was anticipating a favorite album list coming out here on Audio360, and spent a few days whittling the list down to ten. Yes, ten. 2013 was a great year for new music in my opinion, and trying to take that list of ten that I have been listening to so much, and paring it down to three, is a bit daunting.
This was a year when Depeche Mode, NIN, Black Sabbath, Sting, Elton John, New Order and Gary Numan all released very good records, and a newer generation of artists like Lorde and Gemini Syndrome proved that musicality still moves people as much as hype and publicity.
In all it was very good year to be a music fan and I hope the trend continues well into the future! Oh and my three favorite albums of the year at the moment of this writing are:
Steven Wilson - The Raven that Refused to Sing and Other Stories
Superbly recorded and conceived this collection of six songs from Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree is a true sonic masterpiece. Each song tells a unique story and weaves a tapestry of sound around the listener in a way that is unforgettable. The studio band assembled is second to none, and this record boasts some of the best woodwind soloing of the year on flute and saxaphone. The drumming is intricate, yet crisp and the bass and keyboard work is well textured and inventive. Guitar work is sublime as always from Steve Wilson. The lyrics are compelling, and well executed as well. Easily my favorite album of the year. I bought both the 24/96 version and the vinyl!
!!! - Thr!!!ler
This is my feel good album of the year! It is lively and funky; a get the whole body moving experience. The basslines are amazing, as are the funk guitar riffs. The vocals are fun, and at times touching.
!!! are a throwback to when dance music was made by a band, and this album proves that recipe is still one that definitely works.
I have both the 16/44.1 FLAC and the vinyl. Both sound great.
Darkside - Psychic
Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington collaborate to make what I describe as experimental electronically produced blues. The unique use of live instruments - processed, cut and layered, in a digital audio workstation to create trippy otherworldly soundscapes - retain their emotional impact as an idea; an idea that comes to fruition on this record.
Dave, who was Jaar's touring guitarist improvised most of the main parts on this album, which were then cut, looped, and digitally processed by Jaar. Both artists would then add to the process in overdubs until the songs were complete.
A superb outing by two outstanding multi-instrumentalists. The album is perfect late night/early morning music that leaves you relaxed and involved. I have this on 45 RPM Vinyl, and it's the best pressing I bought all year!
Ethan Wolf's Favorite Albums
2013 wasn't the best year in music for me. I spent most of 2013 catching up on music, mostly indie rock albums that came out a couple years ago. Albums like Hospice by The Antlers are absolutely phenomenal, but it came out in 2009! No way it should be put on this list, however, I would say its my favorite album discovery of this year.
Beware, these recordings are far from optimal. They're what people might consider "lo-fi" but I find the most pleasure in indie rock; my favorite genre.
I have listed two albums and one EP. All three came out in 2013, and I adore all of them. The first is Monomania by Deerhunter, an absolutely perfect album. The second is Sigur Rós's Kveikur, Sigur Ros is an Icelandic band and they sing in Hopelandic(?). The EP is Destroyer's Five Spanish Song EP, an interesting change from their normal work.
Deerhunter - Monomania
First off, what does Monomania mean? Wikipedia describes it as, "In 19th-century psychiatry, monomania was a form of partial insanity conceived as single pathological preoccupation in an otherwise sound mind". Drawing from this definition, one would assume this album is about insanity. I wouldn't hesitate to describe the album that way.
Deerhunter is a five-member indie rock band well-known by their vocalist, Bradford Cox, and are currently touring in support of Monomania.
Finally, lets get to the album! It is perfect. The A side of this record is extremely energetic, supported with solid beats, and fun guitars. However, the lyrics are not fun. All of them represent something wrong in Cox's life. On the B side, we have the song "Monomania" which, during the second half, finds Cox going insane.
Anyway, Deerhunter is touring, and from personal experience, I can say they are fantastic live. I would highly recommend seeing them!
Sigur Rós - Kveikur
While this music is in a different language, you can still appreciate the musicality of the record. The albums name, "Kveikur" in English means priming. Maybe Sigur Rós is priming for something?
Furthermore, the album starts off with the song "Brennisteinn"(In English: Sulfur).It begins with a strange crackling noise, and then heavy guitars set in, with the vocals following. This song sounds quasi holy. Obviously, unless you speak Hopelandic, you will not be able to understand the lyrics. Now wait! What the hell is Hopelandic? Hopelandic is a version of Icelandic that the singer invented. It was created to serve as another instrument, rather than a lyrical accompaniment.
Moving onto the song Kveikur; which has a very interesting guitar sound. To the best of my knowledge; they are not using effects to achieve this, but, perhaps, a violin bow. An intriguing technique that sounds amazing.
Destroyer - Five Spanish Song EP
This is Dan Bejar's latest album/EP, and it is a fantastic one. All of the songs lyrics are written by a Spanish musician by the name of Antonio Luque, who is in the band Sr. Chinarro.
All of the songs are very diverse, none of them sounding all too similar. The most upbeat song, "El Rito" is by far my favorite of the EP. The guitar is a very prominent part of this song, with fantastic lyrics.
Destroyer did it again with this EP, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of Destroyer's work.
Bowei Zhao's Favorite Albums
2013 was a bit of a downer for me in terms of music discovery. It wasn't that I didn't discover any music. I discovered a lot more music than I have in years past. They just aren't albums from 2013. I would like to apologize to those that were here looking for some of 2013's hottest, but what I can offer you are some albums that I have taken to heart in the last year.
My favorite music this year are actually EP's and singles from Asia, but they don't really fit the criteria. So I will offer you the next best thing.
Panda's favorite full albums from 2013? They consist of The Heist by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Night Visions by Imagine Dragons, and Living Things by Linkin Park. All three were released in mid to late 2012, but they each hold a place in my heart.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - The Heist
The Heist is on my list because of how diverse yet uniform it is. The styles that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis use are as diverse as having a Symphony in one song, to having cowboys with banjos in another. Their songs are undeniably grounded in hip hop, but their experimental spin is mesmerizing. It's like Macklemore dressing up in different costumes for each and every song, but conveying his message at the same time. Some songs are undeniably sad, while others are comedically strange.
What really put this album at the top for me was how catchy his hooks were, and the messages he was pushing. The Heist attempts to deliver inspirational messages to its audience. The mainstream beats and hooks are the delivery method to catch the listener's attention before he takes the stage to tell you his message. They are meticulously timed and tested. It's almost like a scientific ratio of beat to rap to message to hip hop. This isn't anything new, but the powerful message that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis delivers stays with the listener.
Hope, hard work, chance, and success are the messages that they deliver throughout the album. However, rather than merely delivering the idea itself, they support the main theme with a backstory in every song. In many of their tracks, he starts with a difficult situations or feelings that we have all experienced before he starts building up the idea. At the very end, he pushes the idea through to the listener with his sharp rap. It isn't genius, and it isn't meant to be. He doesn't hide his message beneath layers of metaphors like others. Rappers today mask their messages in lyrical flow. Macklemore performs a reverse circle on the industry by choosing to deliver the message straight up instead. This itself is the genius of his album. It is the buildup, the direct messages, and the style and diversity of his songs. What finishes it off is Ryan Lewis's amazing direction in how the music is strung together. Whatever your take on Macklemore is, this is an album of the year for me.
Imagine Dragons - Night Visions
Night Visions is a personal favorite of mine because it does everything I like. Its sound is smooth and lively. It uses a mix of fast and slow paced songs in its lineup. The vocal style of Dan Reynolds matches with the instruments very well.
What really amazes me when I listen to Night Visions is how it catches your attention. I listen to most new music passively. It's playing in the background as I'm doing other things. Only the most infectious of them captures my attention. This allows me to cycle through a lot of albums quickly to find the best ones for me. I was "alerted" by multiple tracks from Night Visions, which I did not expect. From beginning to end, I remember turning my head many times to see what the name of the song was.
The songs featured elements of nostalgia, freedom of choice, power, and authority. Throughout my listening experience, I was brought to my knees multiple times. 'Tiptoe' made me want to jam. I was free in an open world when that song was playing. When their most famous song 'Radioactive' came on however, I was ready to dominate my opponents in game (I'm a bigtime gamer by the way). The feeling I get from listening to Imagine Dragons is really the best part of it all. It's a big goodie bag that gives you a different flavor with each bite.
Overall, the album suffers from sonic shortcomings, but the music itself is still golden. Isn't that what matters most after all? We should listen to music and enjoy it because it is something we like, even if our Hi-fi setups don't work well with it. Night Visions is an album that leaves little to the imagination with its lyrics, but makes up for it with great synergy between its vocal and instrumental components.
Linkin Park - Living Things
"Now in my remains, are promises that never came, set the silence free, to wash away the worst of me" -Linkin Park
The line above feels like the new Linkin Park, but it sounds like the old Linkin Park you knew. For the past few years, many have been saying that Linkin Park is dead. Many disliked their experimentation, and the style they used during those periods post 2006. I was one of them.
I can safely say that Linkin Park is back and stronger than ever. They've got plenty of angst, they're meaner, and harder than ever. Their lyrics once again talk of redemption, pain, lust, and misunderstandings. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? From one point of view, they just made a 360 degree spin and are back where they started over ten years ago, with a refined and somewhat redefined formula. What you once knew of Linkin Park in 2001 is back, but this time with more than ten years of experience to aid in the redevelopment of their award winning style.
Moments of soft vocals and instruments appear and flash throughout the song. This is a staple of Linkin Park's music and they are using every bit of it. Some are criticizing this. As it makes it difficult to tell their songs apart. I agree on that point. Most music nowadays are simply repeats of a set formula anyway. This is no different.
Linkin Park's lyrics and hard-rock style are here to stay, and thats what they do best. At those moments when you are mad at the world are the moments Linkin Park comes into your life. Their style and songs are perfect for those moments. The song titles can illustrate this better than I can: "Burn it Down", "In my Remains", "Lies Greed Misery", "Powerless". You can see the angst. I prefer this. The songs that attempt to save you even when you don't need help are the ones that make my day. They encourage me, empower me, to be better and stronger. It's like drinking coffee even when you are already wide awake.