2013’s Best Albums: Idolator Editors Pick Their Favorite 10
Pop made a major resurgence in the latter half of the previous decade, and brought us bright new stars like Rihanna, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Ke$ha and One Direction. But when all the dust on the past 12 months finally settles, 2013 may very well prove to be the year that Big Pop first began to go bust. Don’t stress too much about it, though — there’s a cyclical ebb and flow with this tide we call music, and today’s Syron may very well wind up being tomorrow’s Britney.
And so here we are in early December, bringing you our annual roundup of the year’s 10 best albums, as chosen by the Idolator crew made up of Robbie Daw, Sam Lansky, Carl Williott, Mike Wass and Bradley Stern. Aside from one iconic dance-pop act, a pair of hip hop luminaries and a sibling indie pop pair who surprised us all with the turn they took with their seventh album, a bulk of our picks are symbolic of the new breed of artists making an impression on the musical landscape. We probably wouldn’t have predicted their inclusion here a year ago — or even known who one or two of them were — but if Baauer taught us anything in 2013 (don’t worry — he’s not on this list), it was to expect the unexpected.
Head below to see the fresh new faces and the seasoned acts who bent our ears in their direction, and gave us our favorite 10 albums of the year.
10. M.I.A., MatangiReleased: November 5
Everyone spent the first half of 2013 gleefully nodding along to smooth smashes like “Get Lucky” and 20/20 Part 1. Then Yeezus came along, and everything else sounded bland and boring. Matangi managed to stand out post-Yeezus by combining the chaos of that album with the head-bobbing calm of the “Blurred Lines” era, resulting in a jittery, playful jumble of sounds with a surprisingly heavy R&B influence throughout.
M.I.A.’s collage-music approach has never sounded so natural, her dual nature never so fluid. Matangi is snotty pop, it’s cheery protest music, it’s religious music that manages to not suck. And it’s the most consistent, inviting album of her career. — CARL WILLIOTT
9. Selena Gomez, Stars DanceReleased: July 23
Some critics dismissed Selena Gomez’s debut album as a solo artist as formulaic and one-dimensional, but they seemed to have missed the point. Stars Dance celebrates easily consumed EDM as unabashedly as Kylie’s Fever or Madonna’s Confessions On A Dance Floor. It’s not meant to be deep and meaningful (although songs like “Love Will Remember” definitely pack an emotional punch), but irreverent, contagious fun. And it certainly delivers on that promise.
World music-flavored lead single “Come & Get It” was, for some, the song of the summer, while follow-up “Slow Down” made clubs hum for months. Impressively, there’s no shortage of potential hits on the album. The spooky electro title track would sound great on radio, “Birthday” has been heartily embraced by fans and “Like A Champion” is already being played at major sporting events. Oh, and “Undercover” rhymes “sexy machine” with “Hollywood dream”, so you know it’s future cult classic. — MIKE WASS
8. Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer Different Park Released: March 19
7. Tegan And Sara, Heartthrob Released: January 29
Tegan And Sara’s partnering-up with pop producer Greg Kurstin, on paper, may have caused several head scratches, but the musical result turned out to be sublime. Make no mistake, the Quin sisters have always had a knack for beautiful harmonies and insanely addictive hooks. But with Heartthrob, it was as if the pair hopped into a time machine and embarked on a course to pluck the lushest of melodies straight from the 1980s (think Cyndi Lauper‘s She’s So Unusal, Madonna‘s self-titled debut or Culture Club‘s Colour By Numbers).
If you’ve yet to discover this gem of a set, do yourself a favor and get to listening. Otherwise, you’ll never forgive yourself for missing out on the sweet longing in shiny tracks like “I Was A Fool,” “Now I’m All Messed Up” and “How Come You Don’t Want Me,” or the giddy high of jams “Closer” and “Drive Me Wild.” — ROBBIE DAW
6. Charli XCX, True RomanceReleased: April 16
Welcome to the new school of pop. Charli XCX proved herself to be one of the most thrilling faces of the new generation of indie-pop stars born of the Internet. Her kaleidoscopic debut, True Romance, is a fuzzy collection of bloodstained odes (“Black Roses”), ’80’s-tinged pop (“Take My Hand”), experimental hip-hop fusions (“Cloud Aura” with Internet sensation Brooke Candy) and bone-chilling ballads (“Stay Away”). Her influences are as colorful and varied as a well-curated Tumblr, spanning from everything from Siouxsie and the Banshees to Gwen Stefani to Britney Spears. But its her own penchant for crafting stadium-sized hooks (you might have heard a little ditty she wrote for Icona Pop called “I Love It”) that she’s got more than enough talent to fill those platform Buffalo boots. — BRADLEY STERN
5. Pet Shop Boys, ElectricReleased: July 16
There was a legendary electronic duo from Europe who truly delivered in 2013, but we’re not talking about Daft Punk. In fact, it’s a rare feat when a band 28 years into their career can put forth an album as full of exciting pop and energetic thumping as Electric, yet that’s exactly what Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe — better known as the Pet Shop Boys — did.
The PSBs themselves seemed caught off guard when their nine-track disco ride garnered the best reviews of their career over the summer. It’s really no mystery why that was the case, though. Cuts like “Inside A Dream,” “Thursday,” “Love Is A Bourgeois Construct” and “Vocal” signaled Tennant and Lowe’s return to their handclap-laden, bell-chiming, dancefloor roots, and in turn their efforts were rewarded with accolades and chart success not seen since their 1993 masterpiece Very. Welcome back to the club, Boys. — ROBBIE DAW
4. Kanye West, YeezusReleased: June 18
Yeezus was made by one of the world’s biggest pop stars, but it lacks all the markers of a pop record. And yet, there was never any doubt as to whether this, a pop site, should cover it. Yeezus is a singular force of nature in the pop world, even though it isn’t necessarily of that world, and even if the effects haven’t been felt yet.
That’s because, in his mad dash of frantic future-rap, full of squeals and shrieks like some malfunctioning warning siren, West accomplished two of the rarest pop star feats: he took a true risk, and he made something that sounds unlike anything else. And, even rarer still, those two accomplishments led to great music. Call it rap, anti-pop, none of that matters. All that matters is that Yeezus was one of the year’s most thrilling albums. — CARL WILLIOTT
3. Lorde, Pure HeroineReleased: September 30
Getting a left-of-center single to top the charts is one thing — just ask Baauer — but following it up with an album that cements you as a career artist is another. Even as its ubiquity has begun to wear out its welcome, Lorde’s “Royals” is still so beguilingly good that you could hardly fault the public for expecting her to be a one-trick pony — but her debut album Pure Heroine is a jewel, withering and heartbreaking and thrillingly precocious. It’s one of those records that gets better with repeated listens: The euphoric “Team” and the sinister “Tennis Court” already promised extraordinary things, but the buzzing, throbbing “Ribs” and “Buzzcut Season,” in its eerie gloom, prove that she’s not only gifted, but versatile. She sings about how it’s so scary getting old, but really, if she’s already this good, there’s really nothing to worry about. — SAM LANSKY
2. Haim, Days Are GoneReleased: September 27
Haim’s debut album is as quintessentially Californian as the sun-bleached strip malls and battered palm trees that inspired it. Their unique brand of ’70s-tinged West Coast pop-rock evokes memories of sweaty afternoons and long car rides with the windows down — a heady mix that came as sweet relief in a year where popular music focused on bone-rattling beats and crashing synths. The Fleetwood–Mac-by-way -of-Van-Nuys sonic aesthetic that runs through Days Are Gone made it a constant source of enjoyment in 2013.
Buzz singles like the shimmery and perfect “Forever” and handclap-filled gem “Don’t Save Me” give you some idea of what to expect from the LP — killer hooks, glorious harmonies and tight musicianship. “The Wire”, “Honey And I” and “Falling” all fit that bill, but Este, Danielle and Alana don’t stay in their comfort zone. Two of the album’s absolute highlights — “Running If You Call My Name” and “If I Could Change Your Mind” — are breezy synth-pop/rock experiments (think ’80s Pat Benatar or Kate Bush) that wrap raw emotion with cascading synths and rollicking guitars. Given the right push, either tune could be the track that takes Haim to the next level. — MIKE WASS
1. Sky Ferreira: Night Time, My TimeReleased: October 29
Somehow, after at least five years of endless delays, setbacks, leaked tracks and legal troubles, Sky Ferreira (finally!) released her debut album this year. Night Time, My Time is the perfect representation of the moody singer-songwriter’s state of mind in 2013, filled with bitter, caustic break-up tracks (“You’re Not The One”), angst-addled self reflection (“I Blame Myself”) and jagged love songs. In a year where barely anything came into the speakers without an electronic thump, Sky served us an unapologetic slice of guitar-fueled grunge rock. But gritty textures aside, the songs remain undeniably pop, filled with soaring hooks, and songs like “24 Hours” and “Heavy Metal Heart” play like radio smashes wrapped in barbed wire. It’s daring, experimental and often jarring. Night Time is not only a defining (long awaited) first statement, but a defying, perfectly imperfect middle finger in the air. — BRADLEY STERN