Our senior writer and photographer, Eric Riley, has put together his top 20 albums of 2013. Click “Read More” to see his list and read why each of these albums made his year!
20. LIGHTS, Siberia (Acoustic): Let’s skip over the whole “this is a re-release blah blah blah” thing. Okay, cool. When the original Siberia was released back in 2011, LIGHTS took her synth-pop sound and greatly strengthened it. On these acoustic versions, she continues to grow, now demonstrating just how powerful her vocal abilities are. The title track ditches its original ethereal swirls and replaces them with soft piano, transforming the track into a beautiful, delicate duet sung alongside Arkells’ Max Kerman. “And Counting…” maintains its yearning and heart, this time with smooth violins rather than eerie Theremin. The record uses the same bottle to capture an entirely different bolt of lightning.
19. Echosmith, Talking Dreams: One of this summer’s stand-outs, Echosmith burst into the music world in 2013. Following their extended stint on Warped Tour, they released their first album, held a solid opening act position throughout the fall, scored a handful of television promo spots, as well a slot as an iTunes’ Free Single of the Week. All eyes on this band in 2014.
18. City and Colour, The Hurry and the Harm: This was Dallas Green’s first C&C album after the official disbandment of Alexisonfire, and he used this chance to produce one of the most emotion-filled and gorgeously-sung albums of the year. His voice transitions seamlessly throughout the highs and lows of his impressive vocal range, and tracks like “The Lonely Life,” “Thirst,” and the beautifully painful “Two Coins” each display a differently-stylized presentation, while carrying honest and introspective lyrics along with them.
17. Demi Lovato, DEMI: I don’t use the term “guilty pleasure,” and I certainly won’t start doing so with Demi Lovato. Because there is no need for guilt here. I have always been a huge fan of her as an artist, and DEMI gives even more reason to be – it’s an emotionally-grand pop gem that keeps Lovato at the top of her field, while boasting her vocal skill, her growing maturity, and strength, both artistically and personally.
16. The 1975, The 1975: Not many bands broke out in 2013 to the degree that The 1975 did. Their quite lengthy full-length managed to hold listeners’ attention throughout sixteen danceable, singalong-able, more-than-enjoyable tracks packed with a sound that sets them apart from most. It’s going to be all systems go for this group next year, and it’s going to be fun to see just how far they’ll get.
15. Panic! at the Disco, Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!: If past trends are to be taken into any consideration, then we all should have expected something completely different from Brendon Urie and Co. this time around. And the dark, moody gloom-pop that we were handed on Too Weird to Live… didn’t disappoint. The album takes countless chances, combining the multiple sounds and styles that the band has created over the years, and consistently hits its mark. Though the group’s sound changes with each record, “This Is Gospel,” “Collar Full,” and closer “The End of All Things” lend a feeling of uniformity, assuring us that despite all of the changes, they’re still the same band.
14. Golden Youth, Quiet Frame; Wild Light: Golden Youth may have the shortest album on this list, only seven songs (six, not counting the brief introduction), but that’s no reason to think that it’s anything less than spectacular. The combination of Stephanie Lauren’s angelic vocals and heavy use of unconventional instrumentation provides for an end result that is truly outstanding.
13. The Rubens, The Rubens: As the furthest traveled band and album on here, hailing all the way from Australia, The Rubens literally came from half a world away. With them, they brought a soulful, brooding sound that hits you from the moment “The Best We Got” begins. “My Gun” and “The Day You Went Away” are infectious enough for widespread success, but still unique and recognizable. The real highlights come when the band slows the tempo, with “I’ll Surely Die,” “Look Good, Feel Good,” and stand-out ballad “Never Be the Same.” If you missed out on these guys this year, don’t worry: with this much ambition and talent, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them in some spotlights next year.
12. Bastille, Bad Blood: Saying that Bastille’s mega-single “Pompeii” helped them erupt onto the music scene this year is an awful pun. And is also one that I am gladly making, because it makes me laugh. But, in all seriousness, Bad Blood is both simple and intricate, reserved and enormous, gritty and gorgeous, something we didn’t expect yet something we were certainly missing.
11. NGHBRS, Twenty One Rooms: For two months near the end of 2012, NGHBRS chose to lock themselves away within the abandoned estate of journalist/poet William Cullen Bryant. During this time, the band reclused themselves inside of the rumoured-to-be-haunted mansion. This lingering sense of eeriness, accompanied with a bundled isolation, timelessness, vacancy, and history can be heard throughout Twenty One Rooms. Upon a first listen, it’s good. Hell, it’s very good. But the more you listen to it, the more these intricacies stand out, the more you hear the little things that make it a special record. NGHBRS deliver an album that has something for any occasion and any taste.
10. Lorde, Pure Heroine: While her triumphant “Royals” dominated Top 40 radio stations all over the place and first introduced us to her, it was the coupling of Lorde’s timid voice and lavish attitude throughout the rest of Pure Heroine that made for an undeniable sound. Don’t let yourself be distracted by the success of the single; there’s a sweet ambiance that is nothing short of addictive.
09. Dan le sac vs. Scroobius Pip, Repent Replenish Repeat: While everyone was focused on Jay-Z’s viral marketing and Kanye West being “the Morrissey of hip-hop” (which is probably the greatest thing I read on the Internet this year), this English duo flew in so far under the radar that they barely blipped. Unfortunately, there is a large market of listeners out there who most likely missed out on Repent Replenish Repeat, an album which seeps pure poetry out through every note and word. Their spoken-word pieces and the hip-hop tracks both land with heavy impact – whether it’s the swirling, drug-fueled love story of “Terminal” or the aggressive and vengeful grit of closer “You Will See Me” (both spoken), the grinding echoes of “Stunner” or “Gold Teeth” calling out the narcissistic and the materialistic, we’re treated to some real genius. This will probably be seen as blasphemous, but here goes: this is some of the best hip-hop from 2013.
08. The Airborne Toxic Event, Such Hot Blood: The fact that I can only fit in The Airborne Toxic Event really says something about the rest of the list, but we’ll get there. My first listen of Such Hot Blood came during a very transitional point of my life, and it served as a perfect soundtrack for it. From the first seconds of “The Secret” to the fading drums of the concluding “Elizabeth,” the record soars. While each track gives something special, “Safe” is a true gift, wherein violist Anna Bulbrook’s strings and backing vocals stun. The longing for love and the loss of it that ring throughout are both tragic and elegant, but with them come a constant lingering of hopefulness, whether lyrically or musically or some combination of the two, that really leaves its mark.
07. Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob: At first, I forgot that this record came out this year. I don’t know why. But I’m glad that I double-checked, because it would have been a very, very big mistake if I hadn’t caught it. Keeping with their reputation, the Quin sisters released another brilliant album, it’s no surprise. Lyrically, they are as strong and sharp as ever, now swapping their guitars for a more synthesized sound, heavily dependent on keys and electronics. Combining their dim lyrics with often upbeat and lively instrumentation provides the biggest key to this album’s success. Heartthrob was something pretty different from Tegan & Sara, but there are certainly no complaints here.
06. Bring Me the Horizon, Sempiternal: The growth and progression that we’ve seen over the past few years from Bring Me the Horizon is undeniable and impressive. Following with the maturation that 2010’s There Is A Hell… showed, Sempiternal takes any remaining doubts critics could have about this band and obliterates them. Oli Sykes’ songwriting has never been stronger nor his vocal range any better. Arguments could be made about either “And the Snakes Start to Sing” or “Hospital for Souls” to name one of the best song the band has ever penned, and each would have a very strong case to support it. Stylistically, this is the cleanest album the group has ever produced. Meanwhile, their aggression and rage remain perfectly intact. The strides that this band has taken are astounding, and it doesn’t seem like they show any signs of stopping.
05. The Wonder Years, The Greatest Generation: As the conclusion to a trilogy of albums which began with the youthful-aggression of The Upsides and continued into Suburbia’s stories of a broken hometown, The Greatest Generation is The Wonder Years’ grand finale. Elementally, we’re treated to the best musical display that the band has produced to date – sharp, concise, and firing on every cylinder. From the first seconds on the introductory “There, There,” it’s clear that it will be a different record compared to the previous two. Lyrically, Campbell is exposed, confessional, and open, exposing the darker corners of his mind; the hereditary fears of “The Devil in My Bloodstream,” worries of always making the wrong choices on “Passing Through A Screen Door,” or never being in the right place at the right time on “The Bastards, The Vultures, The Wolves.” With each passing song, the album builds to its’ powerful closer “I Just Want to Sell Out My Funeral” – a seven-and-a-half-minute culmination of not only the album’s key lyrical and musical pieces, but the themes that The Wonder Years have always focused on – knowing who you are, fighting for all that you can, and making the ones around you proud. It’s the grand finale to an album that reveals it all, performed by a band that holds nothing back.
04. Fall Out Boy, Save Rock and Roll: I wonder if Fall Out Boy know just how many heart attacks they gave their fans this year. Ever since their split, there were reunion rumors. And near the end of 2012, they started to pick up steam.
Then, in February, they were back.
And they broke the Internet.
They announced their reunion, but that wasn’t enough. They premiered a new song, coupled with a music video, and that wasn’t enough. They routed a two-month-long nationwide tour, and they weren’t finished. They had a new album, and it was done. When we first heard “My Songs Know …,” I think we were all still a bit in shock to fully digest it. So when Save Rock and Roll came out, it brought with it the fear and uncertainty of what to expect.
What we got was the tightest, sharpest version of Fall Out Boy we’ve ever had. Patrick Stump’s vocals continue to dominate, Wentz’ penmanship holds as much wit and acumen as ever, and the end result is some of FOB’s best tracks. Guest spots from Foxes, Courtney Love, Big Sean, and the incomparable Sir Elton John (remember that thing I said about their best tracks being here? Yeah, “Save Rock and Roll.”) mix things up a bit, while “Young Volcanoes,” “Alone Together,” and “Miss Missing You” are trademark performances. There’s no question that there was a giant void while Fall Out Boy were on their hiatus. But with their return, they jumped in head first and regained their place on the throne, back and better than ever.
03. twenty|one|pilots, Vessel: It’s rare for a band in such an early part of its career to have total control over their genre. Then again, Vessel is in a genre all its own. It’s one part pop, one part hip-hop, one part piano rock, and about a dozen parts of a dozen other things. But each note somehow fits together perfectly. As “Ode to Sleep” trickles in, it sounds ready to drop into a typical pop-punk track. And then Tyler Joseph begins rapidfiring his lyrics and shatters that misconception. And then Tyler Joseph starts singing and shatters that shattered misconception. This endless series of twists and turns continues throughout Vessel’s dozen tracks, abruptly transitioning from the synthesized “Migraine” into the ukulele-graced “House of Gold.” The duo’s giftedness for these seamless shifts and stylistic changeovers keeps the listener on edge.
Not since Chronic Future has a band combined these two sounds with such a digestible success.
(Also, sidenote: no matter what sort of dance/EDM/dubstep/whatever music you listen to, I’m going to go ahead and make the claim saying that the drop during “Car Radio” was the best one of the year, just saying.)
02. Frank Turner, Tape Deck Heart: What amazes me most about Frank Turner is his ability to not only write consistently-brilliant music, but his ability to grow as an artist, maintaining his humility while doing so. For years, Turner has stuck to a steady, nearly endless cycle of touring, writing, and recording. Throughout all of this, his music never misses its mark, and Tape Deck Heart keeps with that trend. His autobiographical songwriting allows a thorough look into both his head and heart, never afraid to make himself an open book. The brokenhearted “Anymore” and “Tell Tale Signs” are quiet, yet passionate, while “The Fisher King Blues” and epic finale “Broken Piano” build and grow from gentle ballads to roaring productions that could rattle arenas. Despite his calm tendencies, Turner never forgets his roots. The punk rock pledge of allegiance “Four Simple Words,” lead-single “Recovery,” and the reminiscent “Polaroid Picture” all display that Frank Turner not only remembers, but still holds dear to the places he came from and those who were there. Tape Deck Heart is darkly optimistic and painfully passionate, and Frank Turner is a true master of his craft.
01. Sara Bareilles, The Blessed Unrest: From my very first listen, I’ve had this album penciled in as my Album of the Year, waiting to see if contenders could come along and prove their superiority. It’s possession of the top spot isn’t due to a lack of competition, but rather there was no other record this year that could overpower what Sara Bareilles produced with The Blessed Unrest. Like she did with “Love Song” on 2007’s Little Voice, The Blessed Unrest too begins with the lead single; this time, starting with “Brave,” an enthusiastic, ebullient anthem that praises personality and self-expression.
Much like “Brave,” the upbeat tempo of “I Choose You” and “Little Black Dress” keep with Bareilles’ ability to write fun pop songs ready for the airwaves. What adds even more perk to them is their location within the album, juxtaposed against somber, heartfelt piano ballads: the peppy “I Choose You” follows the calm “1000 Times,” while “Little Black Dress” adds a much-needed lightheartedness after the side-by-side emotional hurricanes that are “Manhattan” and the dark, atmospheric swirling of “Satellite Call.”
“Manhattan” is one of Bareilles’ most impressive displays, comparable to Little Voice’s powerhouse finale “Gravity.” The song is gentle and melancholy, with Bareilles’ voice set to timid pianowork, achingly surrendering the city to her counterpart in a failed relationship.
Sara Bareilles’ early success was a double-edged sword. With the extreme popularity of “Love Song” after its release, there were the critics who believed that that was as good as it would get for her. And on Little Voice, she showed that she was more than a one-hit success. Her second effort, Kaleidoscope Heart, proved that a sophomore slump was far from a worry for her. Now, on The Blessed Unrest, she continues to not only grow as an artist, but excel. Don’t be surprised to see Bareilles hoisting a little gold gramophone for this album.