After a year filled with numerous albums and even more songs, choosing 100 of the best is an incredibly difficult task. Like with the best albums of 2013, there will be surprises as well as snubs. Sometimes the snubs are oversights while at other items there are just so many notable songs that some just get lost in the mix. Regardless, here are 100 songs I found to be notable in 2013.
“Drunk In Love”
Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z
From album: Beyoncé
Well, since Beyoncé and Jay-Z are husband and wife, it’s probably fine for them to be ‘drunk’ off of each other’s love. That said, some of the personal side of that ‘romance’ is made public on this bold track from the surprise ‘visual’ album. It is what it is…
2 Chainz featuring Fergie
From album: B.O.A.T.S. II: #METIME
You know how fitness trainer Shaun T. says he “don’t do anything but abs”? Well 2 Chainz don’t do anything but stupid. At least he does it like a pro. Making a sex tape and putting it on Netflix may be genius, maybe. LOL!
“Wait For Me”
Kings of Leon
From album: Mechanical Bull
Caleb Followill explains it best: “It’s all better now, it’s all better now / wait for me, wait for me.”
“Who I Am”
Pusha T featuring 2 Chainz & Big Sean
From album: My Name Is My Name
Because Pusha T and his star-studded crew stay true to themselves, they shine on “Who I Am”. “Woo! They said be all you can be / Woo! They said be all you can be / I just wanna buy another Rollie / I just wanna pop another band / I just wanna sell dope forever / I just wanna be who I am.” To each his own… not that I wouldn’t mind a Rollie let alone more than one!
From album: Paradise Valley
“Wildfire” is a folksy/roots/country/pop hybrid that sounds incredibly distinct from anything Mayer has released previously. Vocally, Mayer sounds clear and enthused, shedding with mad skill (as always) on the guitar.
“Do I Wanna Know?”
From album: AM
Ah, drunken confessions of love. Alex Turner is honest on this exceptional opener from Arctic Monkeys’ most recent effort, AM: “Crawlin’ back to you / ever thought of calling you when you’ve had a few? / ‘Cause I always do / Maybe I’m too, busy being yours to fall for somebody new…” You get the idea!
“All American Boy”
Has there ever been a viral hit that was such a ‘hit’ as “All American Boy”? Steve Grand’s country song with a gay love storyline made a gargantuan impact, everywhere. Because homosexuality and country are rarely associated with one another, “All American Boy” like “Same Love” was to hip-hop, breaks down social barriers.
“Take A Fall For Me”
James Blake featuring RZA
From album: Overgrown
At the beginning of “Take A Fall For Me”, James Blake claims that, “You can’t marry her yet…” RZA goes on later to state “I heard through the grapevine that great love, it takes time / sex shapes the body, truth shapes the mind…” So basically, this track seems to be about a relationship that is incomplete of all the necessary facets, or something along those lines.
A$AP Ferg featuring A$AP Rocky
From album: Trap Lord
Ferg and Rocky are on that “Sha-Sha-Shabba Ranks”… rings, change, gold teeth, women… Sound so appealing, doesn’t it?
Janelle Monáe featuring Miguel
From album: The Electric Lady
Sometimes, a great R&B duet doesn’t have to be oversexed or completely stripped of its romance. “Primetime” is a perfect example of this. The vocal chemistry between Janelle Monáe and Miguel is magnificent.
“Kisses Down Low”
From album: Talk A Good Game
Ooh Kelly, you so nasty! “I like my kisses down low / makes me arch my back / when you give it to me slow / baby just like that…” When the word ‘arch’ is used in a song, it’s rarely referencing the ‘arch’ of the foot… just sayin’!
From album: Overgrown
“Retrograde” finds Blake channeling his urban side superbly, accompanied initially by piano. Blake’s initial vocal runs sounds indigenous to R&B or gospel, making “Retrograde” all the more unique. Things truly grow epic on pivotal line “Suddenly I hit,” where excitement reaches a lofty peak.
“Almost Is Never Enough”
Ariana Grande featuring Nathan Sykes
From album: Yours Truly
Duet “Almost Is Never Enough” should be incredibly sappy but it isn’t! Grande and boyfriend Nathan Sykes (of The Wanted) sport sound vocal chemistry on this enjoyable track. A musical oxymoron of sorts, “Almost Is Never Enough”, is soulful, yet contemporary, and old school, yet fresh.
“Made Up Mind”
Tedeschi Trucks Band
From album: Made Up Mind
If one was unconvinced just how resolute Susan Tedeschi was, listening to her gritty, passionate performance on the bluesy “Made Up Mind” erases all doubts. She can S-A-N-G!
Fantasia featuring Kelly Rowland & Missy Elliott
From album: Side Effects Of You
Guys are totally in the ‘doghouse’ on this jam from Fantasia and friends, but even they can’t resist the nodding of head or the tapping of foot.
From album: Appreciation Day
Jaheim spent most of Appreciation Day ‘appreciating’ women, but he took a detour to go socially conscious on the phenomenal “Florida”, a track questioning the controversial Treyvon Martin verdict. Sure Jaheim sounds inspired when he’s singing of pleasure, but he sounds equally, if not more powerful, singing of pain and repercussions here.
From album: Modern Vampires of the City
Someone’s not been going to church lately… “Ya Hey” is a play on the word “Yahweh”, which refers to God. Can you say blasphemous? Religious stance aside, “Ya Hey” is another creative song courtesy of everyone’s favorite vampires. They sure know how to bite!
Ace Hood featuring Future & Rick Ross
From album: Trials & Tribulations
I rarely compliment Future (I’ve been pretty critical), but “Bugatti” sports Future’s best hook of the year/perhaps ever… “I woke up in a new Bugatti!”
Daft Punk featuring Paul Williams
From Album: Random Access Memories
On the warm and beautiful track “Touch”, Paul Williams delivers a superb vocal performance against an excellent neo-disco styled backdrop. There’s not a thing wrong with that retro swag!
“Hold On, We’re Going Home”
Drake featuring Majid Jordan
From album: Nothing Was The Same
“Hold On, We’re Going Home” has nothing at all ‘hip-hop’ about it. Despite this, this 80s-styled R&B/pop cut is nothing short of a pleasure to partake of. It’s like the most delicious dessert ever… Scrumptious!
Panic! At The Disco
From album: Too Weird to Live, To Rare to Die
“Miss Jackson” (featuring Lolo) finds Panic! At The Disco front man Brendon Urie using his contemporary R&B chops, with some emo-pop swag of course! Catchy and manic, “Miss Jackson” is nothing short of pop gold. And as “nasty” as Miss Jackson is, “…[he] love her anyway!”
“All of Me”
From album: Love in the Future
The thoughtful, radiant “All Of Me” strips down to piano, vocals, and ‘robots’, with sensational results. Legend sings chivalrously: “‘Cause all of me loves all of you / love your curves and all your edges / all your perfect imperfections.” Aww!
From album: Bankrupt!
“Entertainment” is quite exhilarating, characterized by its use of oriental sounding synths and its superb, unifying chorus. “Entertainment, show them what you do with me / when everyone here knows better / what I once refused to be / is everything they long together / I’d rather be alone”, front man Thomas Mars sings enthusiastically.
“Suit & Tie”
Justin Timberlake featuring Jay-Z
From album: The 20/20 Experience
Interpreting what it means to be “on that suit and tie sh*t”: Basically ole boy is looking like one dapper mother [shut yo mouth!] and he’s going to do any and everything he can to impress this girl. “Let me show you a few things…”
“We No Who ‘U ‘R”
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
From album: Push The Sky Away
Well written, mysterious, and diverse from many other songs in 2013, ”We No Who ‘U ‘R” is alt-singer/songwriter, alt-rock at its best. The sound is reminiscent of a 60s blue-eyed soul hit.
Ranking the very best albums of any year is incredibly difficult; there are always misses. 2013 was filled with some triumphant musical moments, though not all of their parent albums were necessarily ‘worthy’ of being considered the best of the year. Because of various factors, this list has its surprises and like any album reviewed, its triumphs and flaws. One thing’s for sure – the top ten to fifteen albums are pretty close to the cream of the crop from my perspective. Here are the 50 (+1) best albums of 2013!
Modern Vampires of the City
Recommended Spins: “Obvious Bicycle”; “Unbelievers”; “Diane Young”; “Finger Back”; “Worship You”; “Ya Hey”
Seals The Deal: “Obvious Bicycle”
Give credit to Mr. West where credit is due – previously Yeezus probably wouldn’t have landed in the top five, let alone the top two. But as with certain wines and cheeses (Swiss namely), there is an aging process to provide a delicious and satisfying taste. The same could be said of West über-ambitious Yeezus – or something similar that is!
Recommended Spins: “Black Skinhead”; “I Am A God”; “New Slaves”; “Blood on the Leaves”; “Bound 2″ featuring Charlie Wilson
Seals The Deal: “Blood on the Leaves”
The Electric Lady
Don’t put the fork in R&B music just yet – Janelle Monae delivers the year’s most intriguing R&B album that brilliantly encompasses numerous styles and keeps things both classic and progressive. One of a kind, all should bow down to JM.
Recommended Spins: “Give Them What They Love” featuring Prince; “Q.U.E.E.N.” featuring Erykah Badu; “Primetime” featuring Miguel; “Dance Apocalyptic”; “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”
Seals The Deal: “Prime Time” featuring Miguel
Random Access Memories
The best, and arguably most exciting electronic album of 2013, is shockingly less futuristic compared to its colleagues, drawing back to old-school pop, disco, and soul. Throwback it is, Random Access Memories is one of the year’s finest albums regardless of genre, and stands a solid shot of winning the Grammy for album of the year.
Recommended Spins: “Give Life Back to Music”; “Giorgio By Moroder”; “Lose Yourself to Dance” featuring Pharrell Williams; “Touch” featuring Paul Williams; “Get Lucky” featuring Pharrell Williams; “Fragments of Time”
Seals The Deal: “Get Lucky” featuring Pharrell Williams
Love in the Future
John Legend redeems himself big time on his fourth studio album Love in the Future following a somewhat disappointing effort in 2008′s Evolver. While there are some more contemporary ideas here, Love in the Future is more about Legend flexing his soulful muscles, a niche he perfectly fits.
Recommended Spins: “In The Beginning”; “Who Do We Think You Are?” featuring Rick Ross; “Made To Love”; “All of Me”; “Stay The Night”; “Tomorrow”
Seals The Deal: “Who Do We Think We Are?” featuring Rick Ross
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite
Blues albums rarely rack up huge accolades on a ‘big stage’, but Get Up! is that incredibly worthy exception. Soulful and consistent through and through, Get Up! Easily ranks highly among the year’s gems.
Recommended Spins: “We Can’t End This Way”; “I Ride At Dawn”; “Get Up”
Seals The Deal: “We Can’t End This Way”
More than just the agnostics, atheists, and secularists will be pleasantly surprised with Black Sabbath’s most important album in years. Why is album 13 so important? It reunites the whole Black Sabbath crew (save for the drummer) for the first time 35 years! Dark and foreboding, yet ‘sinfully’ appealing, 13 is quite the epic heavy-/black-metal album.
Recommended Spins: “End of The Beginning”; “God Is Dead?”; “Zeitgeist”; “Live Forever”; “Dear Father”
Seals The Deal: “God Is Dead?”
Nothing Was The Same
Drake didn’t necessarily ‘step his game up’ on Nothing Was The Same – he just continued to flex his emo-/ alt-rap muscles like the pro that he is. NTWS is filled with gems, all completely different from one another. One thing’s for sure, he may have “Started On The Bottom”, but Drake is on top of the game by all means.
Recommended Spins: “Tuscan Leather”; “Started From The Bottom”; “Wu-Tang Forever”; “From Time”; “Hold On, We’re Going Home”; “305 To My City” featuring Detail
Seals The Deal: “Wu-Tang Forever”
Beyoncé shocked the world with her surprise fifth studio album, Beyoncé. Even so, that’s not the reason ‘Yoncé makes this list. Ultimately, the R&B chanteuse delivers a sharp, risqué fifth effort that separates itself from the rest of her discography and many of the other releases from 2013. Both shocking and alluring, Bey does her thang.
Recommended Spins: “Pretty Hurts”; “Haunted”; “Drunk in Love” featuring Jay-Z; “Blow”; “Rocket”
Seals The Deal: “Drunk in Love” featuring Jay-Z
Few might’ve expected for Arcade Fire to follow-up their album of the year winning effort The Suburbs with an album like Reflektor (I didn’t). However, as all-over-the-place as Reflektor is, there are plenty of moments for alt-rock fans to cheer about. Danceable, conceptual, and ultimately incredibly unique, Reflektor cracks the top ten best of the year, easily.
Recommended Spins: “Reflektor”; “We Exist”; “Here Comes the Night Time”; “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)”; “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)”; “Porno”
Seals The Deal: “Reflektor”
It truly saddens me to see R&B, a personal favorite style of music, in a state of uncertainty. 2013 found the numbers of R&B down considerably, a trend that is consistent year in and year out. Save for a select few commercial bright spots (led by an unexpected Beyoncé album), R&B only dented the charts. Even so, finding 25 albums with some significance wasn’t difficult to do. Sure, some of the lowest ranked albums have their flaws, but each has some reason for being selected. Enjoy!
The Electric Lady
In a world where R&B and soul music have cooled off considerably, one incredibly talented Janelle Monáe is still ‘on’ so to speak. Monáe balances the retro with the contemporary and alternative like a champ on her brilliant The Electric Lady, my pick for the best R&B album of 2013. Simply put, this album kicks some serious… watch yo mouth! Consistent, fresh, retro, and captivating, Monáe paves her own way and has it going on in a big way. All hail “Q.U.E.E.N.” Janelle!
“Givin’ ‘Em What They Love”; “Q.U.E.E.N.”; “Primetime”; “We Were Rock and Roll”; “Ghetto Woman”; “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”
Love in the Future
G.O.O.D. / Columbia
John Legend may take some risks on Love in the Future, but ultimately, his formula is the same as it always has been. Love in The Future not only has the goods to challenge for the best R&B album of the year, but it also challenges Legend’s own discography as his best album yet. With five years between solo albums, Legend sounds riper than ever on this top-notch work. Rock on John!
“In The Beginning”; “Made to Love”; “Who Do We Think We Are?” featuring Rick Ross; “All of Me”; “Stay The Night”; “Tomorrow”
Beyoncé shocked the world by keeping her fifth studio album Beyoncé a secret. Her rollout wasn’t the only shock; the album itself is alluring because of its cutting edged approach. No longer does Beyoncé show herself as a suggestive R&B diva – she’s now an unapologetic, fierce one unafraid to state her emotions or intentions. At her most naughty, ‘Yoncé is at her best.
“Pretty Hurts”; “Haunted”; “Drunk in Love” featuring Jay-Z; “Blow”; “Rocket”
Victim of Love
65-year old soul singer Charles Bradley represents for the retro-soul veterans atop these rankings. Bradley isn’t nearly as ‘decorated’ as his colleagues of similar age because his ‘chance’ didn’t arrive until late in his life. Regardless, Bradley does it like a pro, delivering a compelling, soulful tour de force on Victim of Love. The young bucks can learn plenty from Bradley, who is on autopilot throughout the course of Victim of Love – no misses to speak of.
“Strictly Reserved For You”; “Victim of Love”; “Confusion”
No Beginning, No End
Distinctly voiced jazz/soul singer José James joins a list of incredibly underrated, super talented artists. His Blue Note January release No Beginning, No End was nothing short of a critical smash, consistent through and through. Sure James is refined like any jazz musician, but he also allows for his sensual, soulful side to shine on tracks like “It’s All Over My Body.” His best moment, however, comes by way of instant jam “Trouble”.
“It’s All Over My Body”; “Trouble”; “Vanguard”
Side Effects of You
Over the course of four albums, former American Idol winner continues to captivate vocally. Sure, sometimes the material doesn’t always match up with her prodigious pipes, but more often than not, Fantasia makes up for it with her heart-wrenching, soulful vocals. Side Effects of You overall is well put together featuring some enjoyable songs showcasing ‘Tasia at her best.
“Supernatural” featuring Big K.R.I.T.; “Ain’t All Bad”; “Without Me” featuring Kelly Rowland & Missy Elliott; “Change Your Mind”; “Lose To Win”; “End of Me”
A Love Surreal
Bilal has been captivating alt-soul fans’ hearts years before Frank Ocean, Miguel, or The Weeknd came along. He continues to shine on his fine A Love Surreal, where his vocals remain powerful and soulful. Eclectic and consistent, A Love Surreal is easily one of the year’s top R&B efforts.
“Westside Girl”; “Back To Love”; “Winning Hand”; “Slipping Away”; “Butterfly”
Underrated and under-appreciated, Alice Smith is an exceptional artist by all means. On She, Smith delivers magnificent vocals coupled with magnificent songwriting and production. Among her most triumphant moments is a fierce cover of Cee-Lo Green’s “Fool For You”, which she makes her own. A tight album with only 11 tracks and 36 minutes in duration, She is that exceptional album you definitely shouldn’t be sleeping on.
“Cabaret”; “Another Love”; “Loyalty”; “Fool For You”; “Be Easy”
Sail Out (EP)
Don’t let Jhene Aiko’s chill delivery discourage you – the girl can pack a knockout punch without sweating once! Sail Out provides an excellent picture of what the singer’s full length will sound like, embracing elements of pop and alternative R&B.
“The Vapors”; “Bed Peace”; “Stay Ready (What A Life)”; “Comfort Inn Ending (Freestyle)”
Chrisette Michele just might be R&B’s most underrated female. While commercial success has only been so-so for Michele, she’s been rock-solid where consistency is concerned. Better is a sensational and eclectic R&B effort that shows Michele’s range as an artist. Nothing is better here than promo single “A Couple of Forevers”, which was easily among the year’s best.
“A Couple of Forevers”; “Let Me Win”; “Love Won’t Leave Me Out”; “Visual Love”; “Charades”
Jaheim has cleaned up his act since his excellent ‘Ghetto’ days, but don’t get it twisted, he’s still an edgy R&B singer. Jaheim appreciates the female throughout, perhaps most specifically on “***** Appreciation”… gasp. But he’s most impressive on his socially conscious turn on “Florida”, written about the Treyvon Martin controversy down south.
“Age Ain’t A Factor”; “He Don’t Exist”; “Morning”; “Baby X3”; “Sexting”; “Florida”
A Place Called Loveland
Raheem DeVaughn is one of the most underrated R&B artists, but he’s also one of the best and most consistent. A Place Called Loveland may lack the flash to appeal to a new audience, but it is exceptionally put together.
“Love Connection”; “Wrong Forever”; “Complicated”; “Cry Baby”; “Make A Baby”; “Make Em Like You”
Is she pop or R&B – that is the question? Not from my perspective, as Ariana Grande cements herself as Mariah Carey’s successor on her fine debut Yours Truly, which debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200. Quality from start to finish, Grande has a promising career ahead of her.
“Honeymoon Avenue”; “Baby I”; “Right There”; “You’ll Never Know”; “The Way” featuring Mac Miller; “Almost is Never Enough” featuring Nathan Sykes
One True Vine
You could argue this album is ‘Americana’ as the Grammys suggest, but the Mavis Staples I know and love has gospel and soul roots. Album One True Vine may be a genre bender, but Staples sounds incredibly compelling as a 74-year old. “Age ain’t nothing but a number” Mavis.
“Holy Ghost”; “Every Step”; “Can You Get To That”; “I Like The Things About Me”
I’m not sure if its cool for guys to listen to K. Michele, but ole girl definitely keeps it real. Early cuts like “Kiss My A$$” and “I Just Wanna” don’t even grace the set… If you are a woman scorned, K. Michele is who you should listen to for reassurance or a ‘pick me up’. Brash but honest, K. Michele soulfully executes on her debut, Rebellious Soul.
“Damn”; “Can’t Raise a Man”; “V.S.O.P.”; “Ride Out”; “When I Get A Man”
For Robin Thicke, it was a career transformative year. “Blurred Lines” was the gift single that kept giving (and perhaps taking), making the former neo-soul singer relevant within pop circles. “Blurred Lines” wasn’t the only shining moment, as Thicke kept his silky, smooth pipes going strong on thoughtful ballad, “For The Rest Of My Life”.
“Blurred Lines”; “Take It Easy On Me”; ”Give It 2 U”; “Feel Good”; “For The Rest of My Life”
Super groups are hard to come by these days. TGT, comprised of Tyrese, Ginuwine, and Tank, three of R&B’s finest, come together to deliver one of the finest panty-dropping fests of the year. Just imagine of Trey Songz had somehow made his way in and Three Kings would’ve totally been too hot to handle.
“Sex Never Felt Better”; “I Need”; “Next Time Around”; “Explode”; “Running Back”; “Burn Out”
Where Does This Door Go?
Mayer Hawthorne’s album sadly drifted from the ranks of playlist glory on my iPod, but I couldn’t tell you why. Where Does This Door Go certainly had its skeptics, but I wasn’t one of them. Vocally, one of the hippest bespectacled white dudes can blow and does here.
“Back Seat Lover”; “The Innocent”; “The Only One”; “Her Favorite Song”; “Reach Out Richard”
Even though Ciara received high marks on my end of things, I may have still underrated it. Ciara doesn’t sport a powerful voice like some of her contemporaries, but it sits well contextually within her music. Ciara is both sexy and enjoyable.
“Sophomore”; “Body Party”; “Keep On Lookin’”; “Super Turnt Up”
Talk A Good Game
Kelly Rowland has been consistently patterning herself as a more risqué alternative to her ‘sister’ Beyoncé (well until Beyoncé itself shocked the world). Talk A Good Game comes full circle, intact with parental advisory label to match. It doesn’t supersede the exceptional Here I Am, but it definitely has some shining moments.
“Kisses Down Low”; “Down on Love”; “Dirty Laundry”; “Red Wine”
Doubleback: Evolution of R&B
“Something For You”; “Easy”; “I’d Rather Have A Love”; “Love & Sex” featuring Fantasia; “More”
Love and War
Tamar Braxton makes this list because of the significance of her accomplishments with Love and War. The album has some shining moments, but doesn’t lack flaws. Even so, Braxton has an exceptional voice and when she’s fully invested with superb material to perform, it’s pure fire.
“The One”; “Stay and Fight”; “Love and War”; “One On One Fun”; “Where It Hurts”; “Prettiest Girl”
“Luv Letter”; “Sweet Tooth”; “Love Starved”; “Definition of Down”; “Beautiful”; “The Long Play”
My True Story isn’t a flashy album, but it is a fine retro-soul effort that covers classics from the early era of R&B, the 1950s and 60s. Neville may be long past his prime, but vocally the 72-year old still got it. Bow down!
“My True Story”; “Ting A Ling”; “Under The Boardwalk”
Maybe it’s a stretch to include Black Panties on this list, but part of the reason for its inclusion is because Kelly returns to his true self – edgy, sensual, and just plumb freaky. Sure he overdoes it and seems to think sex supplants sexiness, but there’s some pieces there. Oreos are still tasty…
“Legs Shakin’” featuring Ludacris; “Cookie”; “Genius”; “All The Way” featuring Kelly Rowland
- The best albums of 2013: No 9 – The Electric Lady by Janelle Monáe (theguardian.com)
- Ten Random Songs I’m ‘Thankful For’ From 2013 (brentmusicreviews.com)
As I look over my 2013 playlist from my iPod, I realize I have listened to numerous albums this year. In fact, the amount of music that my ears have consumed and my pen has analyzed is pretty scary…and I still missed lots of albums! SMH! Some were special, some made me cringe, and some fell somewhere in between the two extremes. As difficult as it was, as of October 7, 2013, I have compiled a list housing my favorites, least favorites, and honorable mentions. I’m almost certain I’ve slighted someone and I’m sure there will be continual revisions, but for now, here’s what you should’ve spun, what you should’ve avoided like the plague, and those that were strongly consideration for favorites. Enjoy!
Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience
Elton John, The Diving Board
My two favorite pop albums couldn’t be more different. One’s a more singer/songwriter and rock-oriented effort (John) while the other balances urban and pop (Timberlake). Two different extremes of the spectrum perhaps, both yield sound rewards.
Michael Bublé, To Be Loved
Bublé possesses one of the best voices in recent times by my estimations.
Electronic / Dance
James Blake, Overgrown
Daft Punk’s effort was the commercial triumph of the two, delivering the ubiquitous, tastefully risqué “Get Lucky”. Blake’s brilliant Overgrown shouldn’t be written off by any means, easily showing a huge amount of growth since his debut James Blake.
David Bowie, The Next Day
So we’ve got a legend who returns after a lengthy hiatus and an underrated band who somehow made their way to the number one spot on the Billboard Albums chart. Awesome. Both albums are among the year’s top regardless of genre.
Black Sabbath, 13
While atheism itself doesn’t personally appeal to me, Black Sabbath’s 13 is nothing short of brilliant, regardless of its numerous lyrical allusions to atheism and skepticism towards any religion.
The Flaming Lips, The Terror
The alternative music category is always stacked with gems, perhaps because this represents the ‘future’ of music with more experimental, less commercialized ideas. Both Vampire Weekend and The Flaming Lips outdo themselves on their respective albums, no questions asked.
John Legend, Love in the Future
R&B may be suffering commercially, but critically, there are still some unquestionable triumphs. Janelle Monáe epitomizes the future of the genre, mixing the best cues from the past and incredible creativity that clear thinks forward. Legend on the other hand is more classic, but as impressive as the results are on Love in the Future, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Mavis Staples, One True Vine
Haven’t heard these? Please take the time. Soul at its best in 2013.
Drake, Nothing Was The Same
No Kanye? He has an argument for both being here and not being here. Honestly, choosing a favorite rap effort is a difficult choice this year as I felt the field has been wide open. J. Cole definitely came up while Drake was a consistent and moody as ever. Others could’ve easily landed here as well… the genre has had a good year.
Logic, Young Sinatra: Welcome To Forever
He’s got next, period.
The Courtney John Project, Future
Reggae is underrated, but it shouldn’t be at the hands of veteran Cornell Campbell or innovative collective The Courtney John Project. Sure we’re going gaga over Justin Timberlake, Daft Punk, and Robin Thicke, but we should also be talking about both these exceptional albums.
I’ll admit, I’ve indeed slept on country some in 2013. Shame on me, I apologize. But, I do think that it is strange that from among the few country albums I partook, my choice for the best was a sequel, just saying. For me, I just couldn’t say that either Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum, or The Band Perry had my favorite album… Can’t speak on Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Justin Moore, etc. I’ll do better next year.
Shirley Caesar, Good God
It is a gospel legend… that’s enough said…
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, Get Up!
Tedeschi Trucks Band, Made Up Mind
Talk about two underrated albums! Both are sensational and deciding between the two was incredibly difficult. That’s why I “made up my mind” and selected both.
Jaimeo Brown, Transcendence
José James could’ve landed in the R&B category, but we all know that jazz is a huge part of his artistry, right? No Beginning, No End is a terrific album that I hope the Grammy voters don’t shun. Jaimeo Brown offers quite a creative, modern-jazz album that is incredibly eclectic, including elements of Indian music and spirituals.
Make sure you check out part 2 (Least Favorites), coming soon!!!
- Potential Grammy Nominees, Mid September 2013 Edition (brentmusicreviews.com)
- 2013 Chart Trends: 5 Underachievers and 5 Overachievers (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Review: Justin Timberlake, ‘The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2′ (brentmusicreviews.com)
September 2013 yielded a number of notable new music releases. As a blogger, music journalist and critic, I found it incredibly difficult to make the time to listen to the over abundance of music provided. That said, I am so glad for there to be an over abundance as opposed to an under-abundance. While all of the albums I listened to left me with something special and a new jam to add to my playlists on my iPod, I chose five albums that stuck with me for various reasons. If you haven’t partaken of these, you should definitely check them out!
Kings Of Leon, Mechanical Bull
Who thought this would happen? After all the breakup rumors, everyone’s favorite southern-rock/traditional rock band return with a solid album in Mechanical Bull. Sure the an electrifying “Sex On Fire” is missing here, but memorable cuts like “Supersoaker” or the personally-based “Wait For Me” are definitely worthwhile.
Ariana Grande, Yours Truly
Ariana Grande is THE young Mariah Carey, period. The girl can ‘sang’, evidenced throughout her brilliant pop/contemporary R&B debut Yours Truly. Flaunting an impressive upper register, not to mention her overall beautiful vocal tone, Grande sounds much more mature than her youthful twenty years of age. While “The Way” featuring Mac Miller was a huge attraction in promoting the effort, there are plenty of other delightful ‘treats’ to partake of.
Drake, Nothing Was The Same
Drake‘s latest studio album lacks a knockout punch like the ubiquitous “Over” from Thank Me Later or a banger like “HYFR” from the Grammy-winning Take Care, but like a defending national champion, Nothing Was The Same remains loaded. Still very much a Drake album, the moody production work and even more emo-tinged lyrics continue to represent the new, modern hip hop way. Tracks like hookless juggernaut “Tuscan Leather“, “Wu-Tang Forever“, and “305 To My City” certainly tickle my fancy.
John Legend, Love in The Future
John Legend is definitely the man, I mean I would totally like to be Legend, particularly being a pianist myself. He sounds as if he should’ve been a recording artist in the ’60s and ’70s given his incredible soulfulness. While Love In The Future does pay ode to old-school, it is contemporary enough to keep the throwback retro-soul singer fresh. It doesn’t hurt that “All of Me” seems like Legend’s closest number to his classic “Ordinary People“. Throw in some covers and notable soul samples and Love In The Future will definitely be a mainstay within my playlist into the future!
Janelle Monáe, The Electric Lady
I was totally ready to put John Legend in the top spot for his classy, refined solo comeback effort, but Janelle Monáe totally outdoes herself on her brilliant sophomore album. Just how consistent is this album? Well, I’d call it not only the best I heard in September, but also among the best of 2013. I mean, you know this album is poppin’ if Prince is one of several notable guest artists!
- Review: Janelle Monáe, ‘The Electric Lady’ (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Chart Moves, September 18, 2013: Keith Urban’s Narrow No. 1 (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Will R&B Ever Recover From Sales Inconsistencies? (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Review: Drake, ‘Nothing Was The Same’ (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Review: Kings of Leon, ‘Mechanical Bull’ (brentmusicreviews.com)
Janelle Monáe Scores A Home Run on The Electric Lady
Janelle Monáe⎪The Electric Lady⎪ Bad Boy / Wandaland ⎪⎪ US Release Date: September 10, 2013
Merely calling Janelle Monáe one of a kind would be a total understatement, like really. Janelle Monáe is one of a handful of R&B artists who brings something truly different, fresh, and eclectic to the table. Incredibly nonconformist, Monáe beats to her own drummer, from the tuxedo she swears by to the bombastic, illustrious tunes she captivates us with. Her second full-length album (third if you include her debut EP in that conversation) The Electric Lady shows no fall-off for Monáe – girlfriend’s got it y’all. Perhaps most shocking about the album is that she was able to get Prince to collaborate with her – your mouths should be agape ‘cuz don’t no one get ‘The Purple One’ on their album!
An orchestral overture opens, entitled “Suite IV Electric Overture”. Establishing the refined, artistic liberation of this album and the incredibly individualistic Monáe, the overture seems appropriate. “Givin’ ‘Em What They Love” brings the first punch, intact with Prince lending his distinct pipes. The vocal chemistry between the two is like a match made in musical heaven – it’s that good. The vocal harmonies rock as well, though perhaps the biggest highlight is when Monáe really digs in to her inner rock-chick showing some unstoppable grittiness. Follow that juggernaut up with another, the fantastic single “Q.U.E.E.N.” which features a legend in it’s own right in Erykah Badu. Catchy, ‘real talk’, soulful, contemporary, and laden with swagger, “Q.U.E.E.N.” is one of the best songs of 2013, regardless of genre. “Am I a freak for dancing around?” Of course not! Monáe even throws some rhymes in there, further showing the artist’s versatility and restlessness. No complaints thus far.
Title track “Electric Lady”, featuring Solange, continues the musical impressiveness, even if it can’t outdo the one-two punch of “Givin’ ‘Em What They Love” or “Q.U.E.E.N.”. As always, Monáe compels vocally, as does the more eclectic, hipster Knowles sister. Following one of many interludes (“Good Morning Midnight”), “Primetime” is an alternative R&B match made in heaven. Janelle Monáe and Miguel? YES! No wonder “…it’s a prime time for our love / and heaven is betting on us”, as the standout refrain goes on this valedictory showing. To make it even more romantic and sexy, those vocal harmonies are simply stunning as are the lead vocals. After being “Primetime”, Monáe declares “we were unbreakable / we were like rock and roll / we were like a king and queen / I want you to know…” on the fine “We Were Rock and Roll”. Like “Primetime”, love remains the theme, compared with rock and roll. Works right? Yep.
Following “The Chrome Shoppe” (another interlude), Janelle goes cray cray on “Dance Apocalyptic”. The hip-hop leaning intro is enough to signify this: “Bands they make her dance apocalyptic now…” Initially, I felt a bit less enthused about Monáe’s second single, but hearing it contextually, it is still good stuff. I mean, she “…need to know, if the world say’s it’s time to go / tell me, will you freak out?” Sensible enough, right? Well in Janelle’s world that is. Monáe goes chill on “Look Into My Eyes”, sounding much like ‘60s or ‘70s pop. A lovely showing, “Look Into My Eyes” doesn’t supersede any juggernauts, but it still manages to please at a high level. It closes Suite IV capably.
Another orchestral overture opens Suite V (“Suit V Electric Overture”), borrowing it’s basis from none other than “Look Into My Eyes”… at least initially. The interlude eventually opts for major key, uptempo fare, only to return to a slower tempo. “It’s Code” proceeds with soul in mind, anchored by a rich, animated bass line. As always, Monáe delivers the vocal goods with her nuanced vocals. The cut segues into the uptempo, groovy “Ghetto Woman” which sounds like a soulful, funky throwback as well, but without being anachronistic. The words are as much a draw as the production, particularly the chorus: “And when you cry don’t you know that I am crying with You? / When people put you down, yeah way down and you feel / like you’re alone…” Empowering, “Ghetto Woman” seems like a fine companion cut to the previous “Q.U.E.E.N.” – rap intact as well. And shout out to Kellindo Parker’s awesome guitar solo as well.
Following the android-themed interlude (“Our Favorite Fugitive”), Monáe wants the “Victory”. “And if tomorrow shall come to me,” she sings at the end of verse one, “I’ll count your every kiss as a victory.” She confirms the toughness of victoriousness: “Cause to be victorious, you must find glory in the little things…” True, and I suppose a kiss could certainly signify a blooming romance. Lyric analysis aside, what about those soaring upper range notes from Monáe? This totally sounds like a Lauryn Hill type of song! Continuing on the much travelled pathway of love, “Can’t Live Without Your Love” is self-explanatory. That definitely doesn’t make it a deal breaker or second-rate either.
“Sally Ride” is definitely clever, particularly if “Can’t Live Without Your Love” seemed the slightest bit too ‘normal’ for Monáe. While there are several messages going on here, there seem to be allusions to the late Sally Ride (“I’m packing my space suit / and I’m taking my shit and moving to the moon”) that transcend Monáe’s ‘android’ stuff. Also lines like “Just wake up, Mary / Have you heard the news? / oh, just wake up, Mary / you got the right to choose…” seem like a reference to freedom of choice in numerous social regards (sexuality, career, etc.). This wouldn’t be far-fetched given Monáe’s love of individualism, nonconformity, and empowerment of women.
Monáe receives the assist from another eclectic, classy standout in Esperanza Spalding on penultimate cut “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”, another love-oriented. “It’s too late, you’re hypnotized / she’s got Dorothy Dandridge eyes / and you love her, you love her, you love her, you lave that girl…” The poetic nature of the cuts makes it shine. The closer “What an Experience” says it all. Sure it’s referencing love, but in the context of this 19 track effort, isn’t it quite the experience in itself?
How good is The Electric Lady? It’s awesome, simply put. Consistent, fresh, retro, and captivating, Monáe continues to pave her own way. Forget all notions about a post-R&B world where the soul is dead, Monáe has got it going on. Go on and twerk it Janelle! #QUEEN
Favorites: “Givin’ ‘Em What They Love”; “Q.U.E.E.N.”; “Primetime”; “We Were Rock and Roll”; “Ghetto Woman”; “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”
Chart Rewind: Highlights from Last Week
(September 11, 2013)
Ariana Grande found her debut album Yours Truly debuting at no. 1 with 138,000 copies sold. Tamar Braxton followed behind her in the no. 2 spot with Love and War selling an impressive 114,000 copies. Nine Inch Nails returned with their first major label effort in a couple of years, selling 107,000 copies. John Legend arrives to a cooler reception as Love in the Future sells a somewhat underwhelming 68,000 copies good for a no. 4 start. Jaheim’s numbers are also modest, as Appreciation Day enters at no. 6 with 58,000 copies sold. As for others charting, Bastille’s Bad Blood bowed at no. 11, Neko Case’s Worst Things Get, The Harder I Fight… lands at no. 12, while former typical top ten R&B artist Raheem DeVaughn found his fine A Place Called Love Land debuting outside the top 20 at no. 22. Ouch!
Keith Urban Debuts At No. 1, By A Smidgen
Keith Urban debuts at no. 1 with latest album Fuse, but it was no landslide. Urban’s latest sold under its 100,000 prognostication, selling 98,000 copies. Respectable in an age where few albums are wowing with their sales figures, but certainly not ‘juggernaut’ status. The Weeknd really just needed a little more firepower behind it with its 95,000 copies to top the charts with Kiss Land. But no. 2 ain’t bad, especially when his last album the compilation Trilogy debuted at no. 4 with 86,000 copies. He came up… a little. As for Urban, well, he’s had better charting days – much better.
2 Chainz certainly didn’t make the impact on the charts that his debut Based On A T.R.U. Story did in 2012 (no. 1, 147,000 copies). 2 Chainz suffers from the sophomore slump as B.O.A.T.S. II #METIME lands at no. 3 with 63,000 copies. Those are better numbers than anticipated, but still, maybe dumbness isn’t paying off for ol’ boy. Janelle Monáe has a solid debut as The Electric Lady lands at no. 5 with 47,000 copies. The Arctic Monkeys do relatively well all things considered, landing at no. 6 with 42,000 copies sold of album AM. As for Ms. Sheryl Crow, she’s had better days as Feels Like Home debuts at no. 7 with only 36,000 copies.
Top 10 holdovers rule the rest of the chart including Luke Bryan’s Crash My Party at no. 4, Tamar Braxton’s Love and War at no. 8, Ariana Grande’s Yours Truly at no. 9, and John Legend’s Love in the Future at no. 10.
Miley Hits No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100
There is plenty to scrutinize about Miley Cyrus (like a crap-ton), but “Wrecking Ball” gives the rebellious twenty-year old her first no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Honestly, the song itself is quite likable… yes I said it. It’s the video that raised eyebrows, specifically some tongue/sledgehammer action and the nudity. But regardless, Miley came up. I could make a Katy Perry joke in regards to “Roar”, but I won’t.
Who’s Got Next?
The fall is always rich with new albums. This week is no different. Jack Johnson seems to be leading the charge as From Here To Now To You wouldn’t be a shocking chart topper come next week. Maybach Music Group return with a third compilation set Self Made 3, while MGMT return with their third, self-titled effort. Elvis Costello and The Roots have a thing going on with collaborative album Wise Up Ghost, while a country trifecta of Chris Young (A.M.), Justin Moore (Off The Beaten Path), and Billy Currington (We Are Tonight). Johnny Lang also bows with his latest (Fight For My Soul) as does power-pop favorite Five For Fighting (Bookmarks). Need some electronica/dance? How about Avicii’s debut True? Or some alternative goodness – Grouplove’s Spreading Rumours. Jam-packed week, but Jack Johnson seems like he’ll be hard to beat.
- 2013 Chart Trends: 5 Underachievers and 5 Overachievers (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Chart Moves, September 11, 2013: Ariana Grande Tops (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Tamar Braxton take us through ‘Love and War’ (newdaymusicworld.wordpress.com)
- The Weeknd’s ‘Kiss Land’ Debuts at No. 2 (getmybuzzup.com)
- Will R&B Ever Recover From Sales Inconsistencies? (brentmusicreviews.com)
- “Love and War” is the #1 R&B Album! (theindustrycosign.wordpress.com)
- Chart Moves, September 4, 2013: Avenged Sevenfold Rock Their Way Back To No. 1 (brentmusicreviews.com)