2013 has been an exceptional year for music, as well as an odd one. Normally, it seems a new artist comes to rise and releases an album that takes people by storm, and while indie music certainly has released a fair share of pleasing records; to me 2013 is the year the heavyweights prove to us why they carry the belt. Many established artists have released some of their best work this year. Daft Punk, The National, Sigur Ros, Queens of The Stone Age, Vampire Weekend, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Black Sabbath and Phoenix to name a few have all released records with much critical acclaim that are just as good if not better than their previous work. I cannot think of another year where longtime bands have been knocking it out of the park as much as this year. With that in mind I present to you a taste of the best music of 2013 according to me.
1. Daft Punk - Random Access MemoriesIt has been eight years since the enigmatic Daft Punk have graced us with their presence and in that time dance music has changed a lot. Dubstep is everywhere, the EDM scene has exploded with major festivals everywhere and Vegas contracts for some DJs. The scene has come a long way since Daft Punk started in France playing small warehouse shows in the early 90s and they seem to be the only ones to see the writing on the wall. Daft Punk are regarded as the most important techno act around, they are trendsetters. Pretty much whatever they do within five years everyone else does. So what do they do this time around? Instead of looking forward they decide to take a trip back to the disco era and pay tribute to artists like Chic that inspired them. Random Access Memories is easily the most hyped album of the year with a unique marketing strategy and impressive list of collaborators. It's a huge risk for Daft Punk to take as this album has made some of their most loyal fans upset since it lacks any major techno elements. However this is exactly what the duo needed to do to stay vital in a scene that is quickly growing stale. Random Access Memories is a perfectly engineered triumph of an album that explores so many different styles of music. While there are plenty of songs that will get booties shaking ("Get Lucky,""Lose Yourself to Dance" "Giorgio by Morodor") The one song that really stands out to me is the centerpiece of the album "Touch." Written and sung by Paul Williams, “Touch” is an odyssey of a track reminiscent of The Beatles "A Day In The Life" in the massive scope of the track and the vast amount of landscapes it ventures into. This song is a perfect example of why Daft Punk are too good for the button pushing scene they helped create. They are true artists and they never want to do the expected, Daft Punk took a huge risk with RAM and it paid off in dividends.
2. Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience
It's strange to think that even though Justin Timberlake is arguably the most recognized male pop-star alive he only has three albums. It has been a long time since his now iconic FutureSex/LoveSounds and many people started to speculate whether Timberlake had another great album in him. The 20/20 Experience is easily his most ambitious work to date. It is a statement that pop songs don't have to all be three minutes long with the same hooks over and over again. For instance the second single "Mirrors" is over nine minutes long. Even though the majority of this album’s tracks are over eight minutes long it never feels tired. Each song is compartmentalized, leading from one movement to the next seamlessly. This is something that is probably not even close to being in any other pop star’s vocabulary. This album is all killer and no filler, ten solid songs that will stick in your mind for a long time. A month or so after this was released it was announced that this album is only part one of a two part album that is to be released later this year. I can only hope that Timberlake continues to challenge the conventional pop song structure further with part two.
3. Kanye West - Yeezus
Kanye West follows up his masterpiece My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy with a stripped down explosive and jarring Yeezus. Many people are calling this a game changer, the album is a blend of jarring noise and Dubstep influence and a dash of old-school Kanye soul samples. People say this is one of the darkest and noisy rap albums, that's not true at all. Just pick up any Death Grips album and Yeezus will feel like a Simon & Garfunkel record. However Kanye is going to reach a lot more people than Death Grips, so Yeezus will ultimately receive a lot more credit. This album features some of West's harshest and politically charged lyrics to date. The first four tracks are the albums most intense, and the production is credited to Daft Punk. It's crazy to think that while they were making their crisp Random Access Memories they were also helping create the hellish beats for Kanye. Yeezy seems especially mad and charged up on this record, paired with the excellent production Yeezus is an immediately engaging record. While many critics are praising this album for its distorted sound, I commend executive producer Rick Rubin for keeping this album as simple as possible and only leaving in what is necessary.
4. Sigur Ros - Kveikur
Iceland's Sigur Ros have been through a transitional year. Their past few albums have felt like they lacked direction, and with the loss of one of their founding members the now trio decided to go back to the drawing board and regroup. Quite simply Kveikur is their best work since Takk, and maybe even ( ). As a trio the band focused on two instruments that have never really played an important role until now, drums and bass. The drums are thunderous and the bass is huge on this record. Kveikur is their most aggressive album to date, and singer Jonsi has found a way to re-tap into that soul excavating emotionalism that captured so many fans with their early work. For anyone who thought that Sigur Ros' artistic relevance has come and gone is in for a wake-up call. The band is alive and roaring on Kveikur.
5. The National - Trouble Will Find Me
If you enjoyed The National's previous three albums then you're going to love Trouble Will Find Me. The National know who they are and what is in their wheelhouse and that's why they have become one of the more secure bands in indie music along with Beach House and Yo La Tengo. Trouble Will Find Me is certainly a more playful than the morose Boxer and less anthemic than High Violet. However, this album explores an array of different sounds from the quiet acoustic picking of “I Need My Girl” to the crescendos of “Sea of Love” all while still maintaining that National-sound we have all grown accustom to. Matt Beringer’s voice has never sounded better and his lyrics are razor sharp making you cry one moment and laugh the next. “Pink Rabbits” contains some of the best songwriting the band has done to date. Trouble Will Find Me is an album for all occasions that will stick with the listener making them ponder life, love, death and everything in-between.
In honor of this post this month's Mischmash Playlist features a five-song sampler of each album. Please listen and subscribe HERE.