10 Best Albums of 2013 - includes Beyonce, Justin Timberlake (Reviews)
Several of the most popular artists in music, including Beyonce, Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga, released new music this year, to the delight of casual listeners and diehard fans alike.
In a year that continued the trend of heavy influences from electronic dance music (EDM), the music world also enjoyed throwback sounds with influences ranging from the 1960s to the 1990s, giving the world of pop music a well-blended, diverse sound it hadn't heard in years.
Check out our list of the top 10 albums of 2013, including what tracks stood out among the rest, what made it different from the artist's previous work and why it will be remembered as one of the best of 2013.
10. Selena Gomez -- "Stars Dance": The former Disney star released "Stars Dance," her first solo album, in July 2013 (Gomez's previous three studio records were released as a member of the group Selena Gomez & The Scene). Gomez's solo effort showcased the singer/actress in a transitional period in her career, as she makes the leap from child star to adult star, as well as a transitional period in her personal life, as a newly-minted 21-year-old dealing with a very public breakup from singer Justin Bieber.
If transitioning away from her squeaky-clean image was her goal, Gomez achieved this with "Stars Dance," a cohesively themed package of straight up electro-pop jams, such as "Slow Down," "Birthday," "Undercover" and the album's lead single "Come & Get It" -- perhaps one of the best songs of the year.
In addition to an album full of dance floor hits, Gomez got reflective on the tracks "Forget Forever" and "Love Will Remember," giving fans a sense of who she is as an artist and as a young woman who is still learning and finding her way. She supported the album on her global "Stars Dance Tour" earlier this year (check out PHOTOS of her sexiest tour looks).
9. Daft Punk -- "Random Access Memories": The European electronic duo has consistently been on the forefront of electronic dance music. However, "Random Access Memories" found the group experimenting with elements of rock, funk and disco that gave 2013 a delightfully new sound that incorporated their traditional electronic vibe mixed with live instruments. The album, their fourth studio effort, has an overall throwback vibe in an apparent nod to the 1970s and 1980s, blended together with current sounds that provide one of the year's most unique listening experiences.
Daft Punk released the Grammy-nominated single "Get Lucky" featuring Pharrell Williams in April 2013, a song that will go down as one of the best tracks of the year. In addition to bringing the ingenious musical talents of Williams back to into prominence, the song treated listeners to a unique blend of funky electronic pop that not only had everyone dancing, but it had everyone smiling.
There wasn't another song quite like "Get Lucky" in 2013, giving it a timeless shelf life as a song to remember. Other standout tracks include "Instant Crush" featuring Julian Casablancas from The Strokes, "Give Life Back to Music," "Contact" and "Giorgio by Moroder."
8. Katy Perry -- "Prism": Perry told fans that with "Prism" she wanted to let the light in, and that she did with the album's airy, 1990s Swedish pop-influenced feel. After her highly successful, candy-coated 2010 album "Teenage Dream," which yielded five No. 1 singles, a worldwide tour and a concert movie, Perry stripped away a lot of what made "Teenage Dream" a major pop spectacle with "Prism" in favor for something more reflective and personal, yet still maintaining a fair amount of tongue-in-cheek that fans have grown to love.
Yielded by the monster hit first single "Roar," "Prism" offered fans an array of different sounds and characters that new for the singer, such as the global "Legendary Lovers," the trap-hip-hop style "Dark Horse," the '90s dance hall diva in "Walking On Air" and the hometown girl from Santa Barbara in "This Is How We Do." Perry also stuck to what made her previous hits so successful, by crafting a slew of empowerment anthems, such as "Unconditionally" and "This Moment." Check out a FULL track-by-track review of Katy Perry's "Prism" here.
7. Drake -- "Nothing Was The Same": Canadian rapper Drake wanted to express that he is in a different space from where he was two years prior on the record "Take Care" -- now at a place where he finally feels content as a person and an artist. "Nothing Was The Same" finds Drake still rapping and singing about familiar themes, including love, fame and success. However, his third studio effort is presented in a more mature way. Where Drake succeeds most on the album is striking a balance between confident and compassionate -- a rarity in hip-hop that Drake has successfully honed over the course of his career.
Standout tracks on the album include "Pound Cake" featuring Jay Z, "The Language," "Furthest Thing" and "Hold On, We're Going Home" featuring Majid Jordan. The latter track is yet another shining example of what makes Drake such a varied artist, opting to sing instead of rap over a synth-infused R&B beat. That is not to say Drake's spitfire raps are inferior. Tracks such as the hit single "Started From The Bottom" and "All Me" keep the album grounded in the traditional rap sensibilities that made Drake a household name in the first place.
6. Lorde -- "Pure Heroine": New Zealand-born Lorde made perhaps the biggest splash on the music scene in 2013. At just 17-years-old, she released one of the most mature, forward-thinking records of the year. Transcending genres as one of the most successful crossover albums in years, "Pure Heroine" explores themes that reject typical pop music flare, straying from opulence and rooting itself in a reality of angst and social awareness.
The lead single "Royals" proved to be one of the most successful songs of the years, cementing Lorde's status as the year's biggest crossover success, with the song reaching No. 1 on pop, rock and alternative charts in the U.S. Tracks such as "Team," "Still Sane" and "Glory and Gore" add to the album's eclectic sound, tapping into electronic sensibilities in a dark and ambient way. In a year that saw great releases from already-established artists, Lorde and "Pure Heroine" accelerated her to the front of the class as an artist to watch for years to come.
5. Kanye West -- "Yeezus": Despite his often self-important personality, West remains one of the most brilliant artists in the hip-hop community. From the beginning of his career, West never attempted to play it safe when it came to experimenting with new sounds and trying things that were unheard of on radio formats. He continues that trend on "Yeezus," showcasing some of his most demented, deranged and overall dazzling beats to-date, mixing influences of European industrial dance sounds with infectious samples and West's signature spitfire rap verses.
Standout tracks on the album include "On Sight," "Send It Up" and "New Slaves," all of which provide the album an eerie commentary on fame and overcoming boundaries. Additionally, song likes "Bound 2," which featured fiance Kim Kardashian in the music video, showcasing how West can bring new life to classic songs used as samples against his creative beats. Where the album truly succeeds is being more than just your typical 10-track LP -- "Yeezus" is an overall audio experience. Taking listeners from one thrill to the next, "Yeezus" unleashes an audio assault to the senses that only someone as imaginative and innovative as West could deliver.
4. Lady Gaga -- "ARTPOP": While perhaps not greeted by the immense hype and fanfare that surrounded her three previous records, Gaga's "ARTPOP" was still one of the most well-produced, infectious pop albums of the year. After undergoing major hip surgery at the top of the year, Gaga had to prove to fans and critics that she could still churn out the hits and get people out on the dance floor -- and that she did. In addition to blending pop sensibilities with several EDM-influenced tracks, Gaga shines on "ARTPOP" doing what she does best -- creating songs with an overall message of empowerment and self worth, masked behind an array of innuendo and a dash of camp.
The album's lead single "Applause" proved to be a wonderfully weird transition for the artist, as she experimented with sounds crafted by DJ talents such as Paul "DJ White Shadow" Blair and Anton "Zedd" Zaslavski. Tracks such as the R. Kelly-assisted "Do What U Want," the David Bowie-sounding "Fashion!," the heavy EDM-infused "Swine" and the immediately catchy "G.U.Y.," are all forward-thinking tracks that will without a doubt be staples on her upcoming "artRave: The ARTPOP Ball" tour in 2014. Check out a FULL track-by-track review of Lady Gaga's "ARTPOP" here.
3. Vampire Weekend -- "Modern Vampires of the City": New York City indie rockers released their third studio album in May and it was undoubtedly the best musical offering by a group in 2013. While the group's first two records experimented with unique blend of global sounds, "Modern Vampire of the City" is decidedly more haunting and mature, with themes relating to self-reflection and adult relationships.
From start to finish, the album plays out like one beautifully engineered story, with the group's eclectic sound shining through its impeccable production and the unique voice of lead singer Ezra Koenig. Standout tracks include "Obvious Bicycle," "Step," "Hannah Hunt" and "Hudson," all of which plays like a vivid indie rock orchestra. Beautifully crafted and executed, "Modern Vampires of the City" catapults Vampire Weekend to a new level of musical storytelling.
2. Justin Timberlake -- "The 20/20 Experience (1 of 2)": In addition to crafting one of the biggest and most highly-anticipated musical comebacks in recent years, Timberlake delivered every bit of what fans were hoping for with the release of "The 20/20 Experience" in March 2013. It had been more than eight years since the former 'N Sync member had released his second solo album, "FutureSex/LoveSounds," and fans were eagerly awaiting for as much as a sign of new music from the singer.
Timberlake released the infectious song "Suit & Tie" featuring rapper Jay Z at the top of the year, paving the way for "The 20/20 Experience (1 of 2)," which features an array of beautifully arranged, experimental R&B sounds that were a major departure from his previous sounds and everything on the radio at the time. Tracks such as "Pusher Love Girl," "Don't Hold The Wall," "Mirrors" and "Strawberry Bubblegum" are so gorgeously different and unique, the songs extended lengths didn't seem to matter. While Timberlake released a second part of the album (2 of 2) in September, "The 20/20 Experience (1 of 2)" is far superior and proved to be a game changer for the singer.
1. Beyonce -- "Beyonce": In truly the greatest, most welcomed surprise of the year, Beyonce treated fans to a surprise album, featuring 14 tracks and 17 music videos, out of the blue on Dec. 13, with no promotion, no hype, no warning -- just her and the music.
Perhaps one of the most brilliant music moves in the last few years, Beyonce's self-titled fifth studio effort, a visual album, the singer managed to bring every song to life exactly how she saw it. The album touches on familiar territory for the singer, with themes of love, sex, empowerment and heartbreak. "Beyonce" gives fans a true look into the singer's life, no alter-egos included.
In an album that is so beautifully composed from start to finish, it is difficult to single out one track as better from the next. Additionally, the songs music videos all provided such compelling, gorgeous stories for each that you can't help but immerse yourself into the visual experience along with Beyonce. Tracks such as "***Flawless," "Pretty Hurts," "Drunk In Love" featuring Jay Z, "Partition," "Mine" featuring Drake and "Haunted" are all so wonderfully different and special from one another, yet they all somehow give fans a peak into the imagination and inner thoughts of Beyonce -- a mother, a wife, a performer, a grown woman. Check out a FULL track-by-track review of Beyonce's "Beyonce" here.