In the time-tested tradition of making annual “Best-Of” lists to rank records, my obligatory “Top 50 Albums of 2013” list appeared on our PW Style blog last week—and yes, there were 50! In today’s digital age, in which music consumers are swamped with so much content—and that’s just the mainstream stuff—one could get completely lost listening to artists’ Soundclouds and mixtapes, let alone determine the cream of 2013’s overgrown crop. Since, over the course of the year, we’ve somehow managed to cull six of each week’s biggest LPs in On the Record, here are the 10 artists and albums that most made me feel something. Or anything at all.
Tegan & Sara, Heartthrob
It was a banner year for the Canadian sisters Quin. They visited Philadelphia, opening for fun. at the Mann Center and were there with Heartthrob t-shirts on. They’ve never sounded so polished and studio savvy. It’s strange when that confluence of sound and maturity meet at commercial success because this was one was their most radio-friendly and mass marketed records. Whatever works, girls. Lesbian emo pop has never sounded this good.
Bilal, A Love Surreal
Philadelphia’s ambassador of jazz-influenced soul did us very proud this year. This first listen pulled me in immediately, from the brilliant first blips of “West Side Girl,” it was clear that this LP was worthy of many, many listens. Invoking predecessors like Stevie Wonder and Raphael Saadiq, the soulful funk born of NW Philly’s Bilal Sayeed Oliver has matured like a fine wine.
Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady
Even if “Dance Apocalyptic” didn’t resonate quite as powerfully as “Q.U.E.E.N.” did, this one’s a complete album full of transitions, elegant guest spots, skits, interludes and variety. She continuously creates her way through an overarching futuristic cyborg narrative, all while managing to pull off toe-curling collaborations with Prince (!) and Erykah Badu. There’s no stopping this one.
Matthew Houck’s an Alabama man. He’s got that bearded, hat-wearing, sun-burnt charm to his music, songs you can tell have been perfected on porches while soaked in bourbon. But Houck’s not that much of a devotee to honky tonk or bluegrass, elements he may employ in some spaces, but he’s clearly been influenced by sounds borne of California akin to Beachwood Sparks and the Beach Boys. This record’s steeped in a celebration of hope and joy despite doubt, sadness and fear. All of it’s here.
Time for a big Bang breakthrough?