Hey, guys! Merry Post-Christmas week – may it be full of juice cleanses, gym visits, and crippling food guilt. I’ll be kicking off our 2013 Roundup with my 5 most important pop albums of the year, since I’m pretty sure Ben only listens to cast recordings and accordion music! (Love you, buddy.) We’ll be doing our TV and movie lists this week as well, which will be our combined picks. Click the cut to see all five!
EDITOR’S NOTE: All of our lists will be in no particular order.
Yeezus — Kanye West
Yeezus was exactly what one might expect from a Kanye album – politically charged, experimental, cocksure, in-yer-face, and kind of insane. That doesn’t make it any less epic and great. A beautifully crafted album, Yeezus is irreverent, funny, weird, and not only focuses on racial and political issues, but gave us one of the most meme-able lines ever (“HURRY UP WITH MY DAMN CROISSANTS”). It’s poetic, too – see “Blood on the Leaves” for a painful look at post-slavery America. Look, Kanye’s definitely crazy. But if he keeps putting out albums like this, then I’m fine with it.
Standout Song: “Black Skinhead”
Beyoncé — Beyoncé
Just a few weeks ago, Beyoncé pulled off a seemingly impossible feat – after months of working on a high-concept, visual album, she released it in the middle of the night as a complete surprise. It says something about the many artists involved that no one said ANYTHING in the months leading up to the release, and it’s clear that they created something they’re (deservedly) proud of. With fourteen songs matched by seventeen music videos and featuring guests like Drake, Frank Ocean, Solange, Harvey Keitel, Princess Blue Ivy and Mr. Knowles himself, Jay-Z, Beyoncé’s fifth studio album is her most assured and powerful yet. (See our full review here.)
Standout Song: “***Flawless (feat. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)”
Days Are Gone — Haim
Three sisters from California – Alana, Este, and Danielle – made a splash pop scene this summer with their breakout hit, “The Wire,” a plucky, peppy song heavy on electric guitar riffs and low, sultry vocals. The rest of their album, Days Are Gone, is just as much fun. Taking their inspiration from decades past, the three seem wise beyond their years, and mix 70s, 80s and 90s music into one extremely delightful record. They’re good live, too, as they proved on a recent visit to SNL as the musical guest. It’s not a game-changer, but there’s something to be said for an album that sounds like California sunshine bottled up and recorded (that’s also well-produced and well-done).
Standout Song: “Don’t Save Me”
Random Access Memories — Daft Punk
Sure, it spawned the Song of the Summer You Never Want to Hear Again, “Get Lucky.” But Random Access Memories, Daft Punk’s first studio album in 8 years, is more than just its monster hit. An ode to disco with a modern, EDM edge, the album brings a different mood to each song, from the quick electronic repetition of “Doin’ It Right” to the mournful, almost Strokes-ish “Instant Crush.” Pharrell also brought a huge presence to the album (between “Get Lucky” and “Blurred Lines,” Pharrell sure was busy between his Song[s] of the Summer), lending his voice to a few numbers, including the dance-floor cooldown, “Lose Yourself to Dance” (which, I can attest, is actually the perfect cooldown song on the treadmill or elliptical – try it out for yourself). Like Don Draper, when Daft Punk doesn’t like what music is talking about, they change the conversation, moving it from Robin Thicke and Miley to disco groove.
Standout Song: “Instant Crush”
Pure Heroine / The Love Club EP — Lorde
Talk about seeming wise beyond your years. It’s hard to believe that Lorde, at only 17, can produce some of the most thoughtful, mature music out there today, even when she’s still talking about teenage antics. After she positively exploded onto the scene this summer with “Royals,” Lorde has been almost everywhere, kicking off her tour in the new year (her Philadelphia concert sold out almost immediately, which is terrible news for me and great news for her). It might seem like cheating to combine two albums into one entry, but I don’t think you can really have one without the other – Pure Heroine is a near-perfect debut album about being young and in love with gorgeous depth and not a bad song in the bunch, but The Love Club EP, which features her more minor hit “Million Dollar Bills,” is its upbeat counterpart. Between this two albums, Lorde has proven she’s not just some teenage flash in the pan – she’s here to stay.
Standout Song(s): “Buzzcut Season” / “Bravado”