25. Sheryl Crow, Feels Like Home
Sheryl made the leap to country with her eighth album, but it more like a hop. Previous hits like “All I Wanna Do”, “If It Makes You Happy”, and “Strong Enough” had a country flavour, so this fits her like a glove. Sheryl has always been superb at creating great albums, and this is no different. It’s a perfect mix of honest ballads and toe-tapping southern jams.
24. Jake Bugg, Jake Bugg
The 19-year-old Brit is wise and talented beyond his years with his debut album. He sounds like the reincarnation of Johnny Cash.
23. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, The Heist
Reminiscent of Kanye West’s The College Dropout, the duo exploded onto this hip hop set that has a lot of energetic pop elements to crossover. It has that energy of a freshman that’s infectious with heart on their sleeve lyrics that are poignant.
22. Leann Rimes, Spitfire
While her life is splashed all over the tabloids, Leann continues to make some of the best country albums around. Finally following up 2007’s fantastic Family, her last album of original material, Rimes continues to keep the quality high with aggressive country anthems that her voice just tears into. She never goes for a cliched country sound.
21. Haim, Days Are Gone
The coolest new artist this year is this trio that sound like they’ve taken the best of 80s music and adapted it for a modern artist. It’s catchy, offbeat, and fun from start to finish.
20. Amos Lee, Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song
Amos Lee was a little boring on his last couple of albums, but he’s back full of energy with this set that moves beyond just acoustic-based songs with some songs that would make Al Green envious.
19. Avicii, True
EDM and folk music have taken over the top of the charts, but did anyone think that taking David Guetta and Mumford and Sons’ styles and putting them together would actually work? Well, Avicii proved that it can. Not only that, he makes it work across an entire album. That’s pretty hard to do when it comes to dance music, but he makes it look easy.
18. A$AP Rocky, Long.Live.A$AP
Coming out last January, this is the album that everyone has forgotten. Kendrick, Kanye and Jay-Z ended up getting all the buzz, but A$AP deserves some recognition as well for this fantastic album that infuses intelligence and major creativity into a typical hip hop sound.
17. Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires Of The City
I keep waiting for Vampire Weekend’s quirky California rock style to become stale, but now three albums in, and the boys have managed to keep it as fresh as ever.
16. Pistol Annies, Annie Up
Pistol Annies underwhelmed on their debut album, but they corrected ALL the issues on their sophomore effort. This album definitely lives up to Miranda Lambert’s solo material. They are strong, sexy, and total rebels. Across the set, they come off as those girls in southern bars that you should probably stay away from, but probably can’t. It’s a ton of fun.
15. M.I.A., Matangi
Another artist who course-corrected their sound was M.I.A. While her last album just got too weird and chaotic, on Matangi, she creates strong melodies within her chaotic dance songs. It gives the anchor a solid anchor to hang onto while she goes a little crazy in the production. She proves herself to be one of the most original artists in music.
14. Tegan And Sara, Heartthrob
One of the easiest albums to listen to from start to finish, the duo went for a more mainstream pop sound while still maintaining an indie sound.
13. Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience
Across 2 albums (released 6 months apart), Justin recorded some of the best material he’s ever created like “Blue Ocean Floor”, “Drink You Away” (both of which turned up on the 50 Best Songs of 2013), “Mirrors”, “Pusher Love Girl” and “Only When I Walk Away”.
12. John Legend, Love In The Future
Executive produced by Legend, Dave Tozer and Kanye West, John really expands his sound beyond R&B by pulling in alternative and rock. You don’t know what you’re going to get next on the album, but it all works together perfectly at the same time. It doesn’t hurt that John sounds better than ever.
11. Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady
Monae has always been superb at chaotic R&B/alternative tracks, and she’s got great ones here like “Q.U.E.E.N.”, “Dance Apocalyptic”, “Givin’ ‘Em What They Love”, and “We Were Rock & Roll”. Yet, it’s the ballads (something that Monae is not known for) that totally soar, especially “Primetime” (with Miguel) and “What An Experience” (both of which made The Best 50 Songs of 2013 list).
10. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack
As each track takes on a different theme present in the movie, the collection is a wonderful eclectic collection of artists from Coldplay, Sia, Christina Aguilera, The Lumineers, Santigold, and The Weeknd. Everyone is at the top of their game, and while the wide range of genres could make things splintered, the common theme on the lyrics makes it all connect beautifully.
9. Kings Of Leon, Mechanical Bull
While a lot of major rock artists underwhelmed in 2013, Kings Of Leon produced one of the best albums yet with beautiful ballads and rockin’ songs that are the most singalong they’ve ever had. Just when you think they are going to fade away, they continue to be a force in the biz.
8. Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer Different Park
To be a successful country artist you have to love the south and show your support…well, Musgraves is changing that. With brutally honest lyrics about the negatives of living a “down home” life, Kacey has the girl next door charm of Taylor Swift and the badass toughness of Miranda Lambert.
7. Daft Punk, Random Access Memories
The electronic duo brought in the likes of Pharrell to add an old school R&B vibe across several tracks like “Get Lucky”, “Lose Yourself To Dance”, “Doin’ It Right”, “Fragments Of Time”, and “The Game Of Love”. It ends up being an interesting mashup of styles.
6. The Great Gatsby soundtrack
From upbeat party jams like Fergie’s “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody”, Emeli Sande’s cover of “Crazy In Love”, and will.i.am’s “Bang Bang” (yes, he recorded a good song!), to excellent ballads by Lana Del Ray (“Young And Beautiful”) and Beyonce and Andre 3000’s cover of “Back To Black”, this easily wins as the Best Soundtrack of the Year. Artists like Jay-Z, Florence and The Machine, Gotye, Jack White, and Sia all produce some of their best work.
5. Arcade Fire, Reflektor
The Montreal band have managed to create their most mainstream album while still maintaining their unique alternative style. There’s several moments on the collection that are reminiscent of The Beatles. It’s clear that the Haitian inspiration worked wonders.
4. Amy Grant, How Mercy Looks From Here
The surprise of the year is this album from the biggest Christian artist in the biz. The interesting thing (and the thing that shouldn’t turn you off) is that Amy isn’t singing about God and religion necessarily, but more just about the experience of life. Whether it’s the incredible “Shovel In Hand” (which is #3 on the Best Songs of 2013) where she sings about her son having to bury his friend, slowing down the pace of life on “Don’t Try So Hard”, seizing the moment on “Our Time Is Now”, “Not Giving Up”, and making sure to “Greet The Day”, it’s just not topics you normally hear singers taking on. It’s a refreshing collection.
3. Beyonce, Beyonce
Coming out of nowhere on December 13, Beyonce’s self-titled album is a surprise in more ways than one. She started to move away from a pop sound on her last album, 4, but she completes the transition here. There’s not a pop anthem to be found here. She experiments with more sounds with a plethora of collaborators like Frank Ocean, Drake, Pharrell, Justin Timberlake, Sia, Ryan Tedder, and Timbaland and it shows. It’s Beyonce at her most exciting, surprising, and introspective. Oh, and her dirtiest. This is a woman fully in charge and it’s exhilarating to listen to.
2. Kanye West, Yeezus
He thinks he’s the best, and he kinda is. While on his first incredible 3 albums, Kanye stayed within the confines of hip hop music (and being the best at that), he then started to take his sound away from the norm into some very weird areas. It often means you need a couple listens to fully comprehend it, but it’s fascinating to hear. He challenges his audience, pushes boundaries, and typically has everyone following in his footsteps a couple years later. 808s and Heartbreak initially had people turning their nose up at it, but then it ended up informing Drake and Frank Ocean’s music. Yeezus is no different. It is loud, abrasive, and chaotic, but at their center of it all, Kanye is taking you on an incredible journey.
1. The Civil Wars, The Civil Wars
Much was made over the fact that the folk duo broke up after they finished they recording this album, so it makes the ballads on the album emotionally devastating to listen to. You can hear the duo’s emotions through their vocals (and they’ve never sounded better). But it’s not all a depressing affair. They also rock out on tracks like “From This Valley”, “I Had Me A Girl”, and “Oh Henry”. This album is a draining experience, but something you’ll never forget.