20. Capital Cities – In A Tidal Wave of Mystery
Capital Cities really impressed me with their songwriting strengths as evident on their first single “Safe and Sound”. I bought the album on impulse and was completely blown away. The LA indiepop duo’s tunes were essentially disco-influenced tunes of what music from the 80s would sound like in 2013. Songs like “I Sold My Bed But Not My Stereo” and “Farrah Fawcett Hair” are songs the world needs to hear, despite their lack of touring promo. As a new age Hot Chip, Capital Citites’ sound is great for music because there’s an equal balance of quality instrumentation and strong vocals.
19. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
On their third album, indie rock band Vampire Weekend link up with Diplo-affiliated producer Ariel Rechtshaid to create their most radio-friendly tunes to date. The band’s first single “A-Punk” hit airwaves about five years ago, and ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ new single “Diane Young” picks up right where they left off. The disc features a bunch of oddly written tunes by lead singer Ezra Koenig. With ‘City’, however, the songs are steering away from the indie market and moving towards mainstream success. Each of the videos from this project has aided in propelling the release to Top 40, rock, and pop radio stations, and with Barack Obama’s seal of approval the band approached even newer heights.
18. SZA – S EP
R&B singer SZA has been making music for a few years, but recently got my attention with her ‘S’ EP, a first in a series of three. The EP’s first single “Aftermath” is a dreamy, futuristic R&B tune filled with soft vocals from the freckled singer. SZA’s quaint nature takes over her music as her vocals reel listeners into her soulful dimension. I’ll admit, I was a bit apprehensive about her after her epic “I am not human, I am made of bacon” lyric, but ‘S’ really delves into her craftsmanship as a musician. Since the EP’s release, Kendrick Lamar has signed her to his TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment) label, and she performed alongside him at this year’s ‘American Music Awards’.
17. Skylar Grey – Don’t Look Down
Known for being a highly desired songwriter for Rihanna, Dr. Dre, and Christina Aguilera, Skylar Grey’s debut release was one of the most anticipated of the year. Skylar’s darkpop songs have become #1 singles for many artists, and luckily the same quality of songs appear on ‘Don’t Look Down’. The album’s collaborations (Big Sean and Angel Haze mainly) were surprising but helpful in making the release more cohesive and the scattering of acoustic ballads throughout (“Pulse”, “White Suburban”) showcases Skylar’s full range of vocal abilities. Third single “Wear Me Out” has been charting well on adult top 40, and I’m sure the album could last a few more months if another single is released soon.
16. M.I.A. – Matangi
The release of ‘Matangi’, the third album from Grammy award-winning rapper M.I.A., has undergone its share of public battles, pushbacks, and tracklisting rewrites, but it was finally released this year. As one of 2013’s most anticipated releases, the disjointed set featured two collaborations from the Weeknd and a two-year-old single (“Bad Girls”). ‘Matangi’ also features two additional singles (“Bring The Noize” and “Come Walk With Me”) which earned moderate success. The lack of Diplo on the release is overshadowed by French DJ Switch, who produces half of the album. But with all of the publicity surrounding the album’s behind-the-scenes issues, this might be the last M.I.A. release we’ll get in a long time.
15. King Krule – 6 Feet Beneath The Moon
King Krule’s weird baritone reeled me in as a fan, months before his official Beyonce’ endorsement. After his first self-titled EP, I knew I would be in love with his first album, and ‘6 Feet Beneath The Moon’ is a standout release this year. Songs like “Bathed In Grey” and “Out Getting Ribs” are very strange arrangements, indeed, but its Krule’s ability to make the most out of his voice that really stands out. Krule prides himself in being completely different from all other artists, and ‘6 Feet’ is the best way to introduce his sound to the world.
14. Justin Timberlake – The 2020 Experience
When I originally reported on Justin’s ‘2020 Experience’ part one material, I wasn’t a big fan of either “Suit and Tie” or “Mirrors”. However, the Timbaland-produced album has become my favorite work from the duo to date. The album’s singles appeared out of nowhere and dominated charts for most of the spring and summer. Justin’s songs are always sensual and provoking, but the songs on ‘2020 Experience’ bring about a new era of R&B – one that’s intertwined with the pop world. The fact that Justin’s songs carry this R&B/pop crossover appeal made the album a favorite of 2013.
13. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time
It took Sky Ferreira six years to convince her label to release her debut album ‘Night Time, My Time’, and it’s worth every wait. Sky’s first full-length release is a joyful ride through the realm of a singer-songwriter’s rock/pop struggle. The disc’s first single “You’re Not The One” made waves as an indie hit, and new single “Night Time, My Time” is beginning to take a run at Billboard dance charts. With very little promotion, however, it’s amazing how much Sky has accomplished in just one year.
12. Fantasia – Side Effects Of You
‘American Idol’ season three winner Fantasia Barrino is the type of artist that releases a quality album – start to finish. There’s no fillers or features overflux on Fanny’s fourth album ‘Side Effects Of You’, just quality R&B that brings the genre to new heights. “Lose To Win”, the album’s stirring first single, became her most cross-formatted single singe “I Believe” and “Without Me” (featuring Kelly Rowland and Missy Elliott) shattered hip-hop/R&B chart records earlier this year. However, its album gems like “Lighthouse” and “In Deep” that really showcases what everyone expects from Fanny – above average vocals.
11. CHVRCHES – The Bones Of What You Believe
The Scottish synthpop band led by Lauren Mayberry finally released ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ this year after four successful singles. With their first release “The Mother We Share”, CHVRCHES ended up on many 2012 ‘best new artist’ and ‘rising star’ lists. After subsequent singles “Recover” and “Gun” overperformed, the band’s debut album was rushed out in September 2013. To further generate interest in the band’s 80s sound, Mayberry performed a string of stellar covers that solidified her as a pop vocalist. It’s really hard for UK indie bands to break stateside, but CHVRCHES’ impact will be around for years to come.