Friday 6 December 2013

The Gizzle Review's Top Albums Of 2013

It's been quite a year, hasn't it?  What began with a promised return of guitar-pop from Radio 1 boss George Ergatoudis soon moved into a feminist melting pot of twerking, bangerz, open letters, rapey lyrics and that Lily Allen video.  And let's not forget the disco-fuelled battle for song of the summer between Daft Punk and Robin Thicke (no contest there).

2013 was a year where breakout artists for once lived up to the hype.  Debut albums from the likes of Haim, CHVRCHES, AlunaGeorge, Laura Mvula and The 1975 all found critical success, proving the tastemakers right after multiple awards and accolades before their careers had fully taken off.  That's not to mention the artists who leapt seemingly out of nowhere - Icona Pop and Lorde especially.  Other acts like Charli XCX, Savages, Disclosure and Daughter also had exciting debuts.

This was, however, very much the year of the comeback.  Established artists and bands like Arcade Fire, Janelle Monáe, Little Boots, Phoenix, Foals and James Blake all returned with excellent albums, the latter surprisingly winning the Mercury Prize.  There was even room for some surprises - the pure pop of Tegan and Sara; Little Mix living up to their X Factor winning status; Paramore fusing pop further into their teen rock aesthetic; Dawn Richard's sultry dance-R&B; and V V Brown's incredible turnaround.  And in a year that saw some disappointing rap albums from the egotistical Kanye West, Eminem and Jay-Z, it was Drake who provided the best hip-hop album of the year.

Mostly, 2013 saw the return of some huge names - from veterans like David Bowie and Pet Shop Boys, to more recent heavyweights like Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Lady GaGa and Britney Spears.  Even now, opinions continue to be split.

So, with the benefit of hindsight, which are the albums that were not only played all year but will continue to be on repeat well into 2014?  Read on...

10. Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience

Why It Made The Top 10:
Perhaps the most controversial addition to the list, Timberlake's return to music definitely divided opinion.  For some, the lengthy, dragged out songs lack the same pop appeal as his previous material, whilst the overtly sexual lyrics are sleazy.  For others, this double album is an opus of sexy grooves and Timbaland's influential production that sees Timberlake re-establishing himself as a superstar.  Part One is certainly the stronger of the two, but together 'The 20/20 Experience' is undoubtedly one of the major musical events of the year.

What We Said
"Ultimately, Timberlake’s confidence is irresistible.  ‘The 20/20 Experience’ cements Timberlake as a pop master, not just on top of his game after a (long) six year break, but on top of the world.  All hail the king of pop.  Sit back, put on your headphones, press play, and let JT make love to your ears."

Best Track: Mirrors

9. Dawn Richard - Goldenheart

Why It Made The Top 10:
'Goldenheart' was released way back at the start of the year and no other pop-R&B record has come close to matching Richard's sultry vocals and moody production.  Fusing elements of pop, R&B, dance, dubstep and more, this is an album that shudders and fizzes as much as it slinks and blooms, with a sexual maturity far beyond Rihanna's comprehension.  If this one passed you by, get on it immediately.

What We Said
"Pop sensibilities are at the core of ‘Goldenheart’, but just as one melody takes hold, the production shifts and evolves in a new direction..Richard may be working with typical tropes and genres, but with ‘Goldenheart’ they are subverted and made fresh."

Best Track: Frequency

8. AlunaGeorge - Body Music

Why It Made The Top 10:
AlunaGeorge released their debut single You Know You Like It back in April 2012 - for fans, 'Body Music' was a long time coming.  But it was certainly worth the wait, cementing a contemporary sound that's sexy and cool with its glitchy beats, sparkling synths and cooing vocal melodies.  It's a lengthy album, but crammed with twisted R&B tracks that sound as fresh at the end of the year as they did on the album's summer release.

What We Said
"It may have its flaws, but this debut from the London duo remains one of the best pop albums of the year so far – a collection of songs that dazzle, thrill and arouse from start to finish."

Best Track: You Know You Like It

7. The 1975 - The 1975

Why It Made The Top 10:
The Manchester four-piece were much touted at the start of the year and the release of their debut in September didn't disappoint, following successful EPs, a support slot on Muse's tour and performing at plenty of summer festivals.  Bright, effervescent tracks like The City, Sex and Chocolate have been ubiquitous on the radio for most of 2013, whilst the full album has a youthful, almost dreamlike quality that's continued to charm beyond the singles.  This really is an album with universal appeal.

What We Said
"The 1975 have proven, then, that it's not just synths that can make you dance, but guitar hooks and yearning pop melodies.  This is an accomplished debut album that is bound to light up the radio, the charts and gig venues across the country, appealing to pop fans, guitar fans and everybody in between." 

Best Track: The City

6. Janelle Monáe - The Electric Lady

Why It Made The Top 10:
As a celebration of the outsider (encapsulated by her android alter-ego Cindy Mayweather), Monáe's 'The Electric Lady' should be applauded for its lyrical themes as much as the music.  Yet beyond the high concept, tracks like Q.U.E.E.N, Primetime, We Were Rock & Roll and What An Experience work as standalone tracks, combining funk, soul, R&B and hip-hop into a creative concoction that never fails to thrill.

What We Said
"The concept might be difficult for some to look past, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more creative album released this year.  Monáe has proven once again why she's one of the most unique artists of our time with an album that deserves both critical and commercial success."

Best Track: Primetime

5. Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob

Why It Made The Top 10:
At just over thirty minutes long and comprising only ten tracks, 'Heartthrob' is compact, concise and doesn't outstay its welcome.  Yet within that short amount of time, the album is jam-packed with hooks, catchy choruses, playful synth production and heartbreaking lyrics, all wrapped up in a power pop package devoid of a single bad track.  No other album this year can match it for sheer consistent quality.

What We Said
"This might be frothy pop, but a hell of a lot of care and love has gone into its creation.  It’s youthful and vibrant, playful even, but there’s equally a maturity and a confidence here."

Best Track: Closer

4. V V Brown - Samson & Delilah

Why It Made The Top 10:
Simple really - this is the most unique album on the list.  As it becomes increasingly difficult to carve a new sound, V V Brown has done just that with her fusion of melancholic disco and archaic gospel with a biblical concept.  Grand and evocative on an operatic scale yet equally personal and spiritual, this is a stunning piece of avant-garde pop and quite the turnaround from Brown's earlier doo-wop days.

What We Said
"'Samson & Delilah' is a remarkable artistic release, a biblical vision brought to musical life through incredible use of mood and drama.  Nothing else sounds quite like it."

Best Track: Faith

3. Haim - Days Are Gone

Why It Made The Top 10:
Haim have had a phenomenal year.  What began with their BBC Sound of 2013 win continued with a busy summer on the festival circuit that established the sisters' live credentials (as well as Este's infamous 'bass face').  It all culminated in a polished debut that begins with three massive singles and just keeps on delivering.  Girl band pop hooks rub shoulders with scuzzy guitar riffs in an unlikely combination of old and new, whilst in interviews Haim prove time and again why they're the coolest girls in pop.

What We Said
"In a time when electronic music rules, Haim have seemingly done the impossible: lived up to the hype with a guitar-centric album.  They’ve survived the initial buzz and a hectic festival schedule to release an album that polishes an already accomplished live set."

Best Track: Don't Save Me

2. CHVRCHES - The Bones Of What You Believe

Why It Made The Top 10:
CHVRCHES' music is ripe with contradictions: melancholic lyrics sung over ecstatic, fizzing production; delicate melodies spun over pounding beats; and Lauren Mayberry's vocals delivered with both girlish fragility and spiteful menace.  In both live and recorded form, the Scottish trio bring an element of abrasive, Glaswegian grit to their neon electronic textures - the opposite of most soulless EDM that fills the charts.  CHVRCHES came for us with all that they have, resulting in the essential electro-pop album of 2013.

What We Said
"Mayberry is CHVRCHES not-so-secret weapon, elevating the trio above the competition." 

Best Track: The Mother We Share

1. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

Why it made the Top 10:
Really, 'Random Access Memories' deserves the number one spot on the strength of Get Lucky alone - inescapably the song of the year and responsible for the 2013 disco revival.  As an album, though, 'RAM' is an incredible piece of craftsmanship.  It might not have the pop hooks many fans were expecting, but the production is impeccable, with 70s funk grooves melding with typically Daft Punk dance techniques for a sound that reflects the music of the past, present and future.  A masterpiece.

What we said:
"Above all, 'RAM' is a soul record.  In a pop landscape saturated with electronic music, it's ironic that it takes two robots to remind us we're human after all."

Best Track: Get Lucky

Honourable Mentions...

Daughter - If You Leave

What We Said:
"If you can make it through the whole of ‘If You Leave’ without crying, you have a heart of stone."

Best Track: Youth

Foals - Holy Fire

What We Said:
"Foals have grown into one of the UK’s most preeminent rock bands and for good reason.  ‘Holy Fire’ is an incredibly accomplished album that sees the band at the top of their game, an album that will appease old fans as well as draw in some new ones."

Best Track: Inhaler

And let's not forget about the best tracks of the year.  Here's a handy playlist.  You're welcome.