My Top Albums of 2013:
- 30 Seconds To Mars - Love Lust Faith + Dreams
Even though I knew that 30 Seconds To Mars took their time to make their albums and that a new one would be coming soon, this album completely took me by surprise, both with its release and its quality. I am definitely willing to continue to wait for their albums if they keep being this fantastic. It was an epic fantasy thriller, a wild ride of music that soared and rumbled. It was filled with songs that could stand alone and be excellent for radio, but the beauty of the album was how it played as a whole. With songs flowing right into others and wonderful instrumentals in-between, Love Lust Faith + Dreams was a soundtrack to an incredible story that 30 Seconds To Mars told with raw emotion and furious passion. The result is one of the best albums of the year, and probably my favorite album by them to date.
My Favorite Songs: Birth & Bright Lights
- Paramore - Paramore
Now this was an album I had been waiting a while for. After suffering the loss of two of their founding members, the world waited to see what Paramore would do. With this album, they sure got their response. The self-titled release from the group revealed a revitalized and energized sound that came in with an explosion and showed everyone that Paramore was not dead and gone. In fact, they came back better than ever, with a branching out of sound and styles that revealed the band's maturity and moving on from the past. With a balance of fun-natured tunes and more hard-hitting jams, Paramore is a pleasure to listen to from beginning to end. Songs like "Still Into You", "Ain't It Fun", and "Fast In My Car" show off the ability of the band to live life and enjoy it, while tracks like "Part II", "Now", and "Future" reveal that they acknowledge the hard things in life, and are willing to take them on. This album was even better than I expected, and I can't wait to see what they do in the future.
My Favorite Songs: Part II & Future
- OneRepublic - Native
After some delays, OneRepublic finally hit the public scene again this year with an album that very much surprised me. The leading single, "Feel Again", didn't catch my interest as much, but as I listened to the album when it released, I was incredibly impressed. Even though it took longer than expected, the result was a polished and solid record that was worth the wait. OneRepublic took their pop sound from the last record and made it even bigger, with songs like "Counting Stars", "If I Lose Myself", and "Life In Color" ready to hit stadiums and airwaves alike. Even though it was a pop-based album, they still brought in some other elements to help create stunningly beautiful tracks like "Can't Stop" and "Au Revior". "Can't Stop" is heart-broken lyrics over echoing hip-hop beats that comes together to become a huge cry of desperation, and "Au Revoir" is brooding about what ifs over moving string and piano lines to create a haunting piece. Not everything on the album is spectacular, but nothing on the album is bad. You can hear the quality and hard-work that went into this record, and I think they did a grand job, expanding their previous pop sound and incorporating other ideas and sounds that made the album a diverse piece of art.
My Favorite Songs: Can't Stop & What You Wanted
- Oblivion - M83
For me personally, this has to be the most surprising album on the list. I had never really listened to M83 and hadn't seen Oblivion, but my dad and I watched it near the end of the summer. Not only was I entranced by the movie, but the soundtrack had me hooked the more the movie went on. I hadn't fallen in love with a soundtrack like that since Tron: Legacy. I personally think the combination of classical sounds with electronic elements makes for stunning music, and this is one of those cases. It is much less electronic than Tron: Legacy, but it is just as intricate and visual. The huge soundscapes bring the mind the huge landscapes of the movie, and capture the intensity of the movie within the notes. It's also fantastic in that while the songs flow together flawlessly, they are identifiable as single songs, which is something I find hard to notice with classical film scores. Songs like "Earth 2077", "Starwaves", and "Jack's Dream" are all tracks that I can easily identify from start to end. It's soundtracks like this that make movies come to life, and give them another dimension that allows viewers to connect even more with the movies they love.
- Fall Out Boy - Save Rock And Roll
Fall Out Boy. The band that took the world by storm. Again. After a brief and vibrant hiatus, Fall Out Boy came back with an explosion that shook everywhere. They dropped their first album since 2008, an album that revealed the change that they went through while they were gone and the sound they wanted to make. They were able to record away from the world, away from expectations, and what resulted was one of their best albums. They changed their sound, yes, but thats what happens when bands grow up. They grow out of things, and this is the case. From the first single, "My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up)", I knew this album was going to be something special. People have complained that the title of the album, Save Rock and Roll, is not an accurate description of the sound; they say it sounds too pop-influenced. What people forget, however, is that rock 'n roll isn't about guitars with distortion and a driving drumset. Rock 'n roll is about taking chances, about doing something that isn't expected, about going on a ledge and taking a leap of faith. That's exactly what Fall Out Boy did with this album; no one expected them to put synths and electronic beats and hip-hop influence in their music, but that's exactly what they did. It's polished, it's radio friendly, and it's rock 'n roll. I had never been a huge fan of FOB, but I've gotten hooked for sure now.
My Favorite Songs: My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up) & Save Rock and Roll
- Jimmy Eat World - Damage
This was one of those albums I was not expecting to like as much as I did. I found out it was releasing a few weeks before it did, took an initial listen and didn't think much of it. I must have not been paying much attention on the first go round, however, because I tried it again a few days later and ended up buying the whole album after a few listens. I have always loved Bleed American, and I think they've struggled since then to make something that is at that same level; this is the album that finally did it. It's a bit more grown up than their earlier sound, but they found a way to channel the same energy and emotion that they had in the beginning of their career into this album. Songs like "Damage", "How'd You Have Me", and "No, Never" show they still have the ability to create upbeat anthems that could connect with fans, while songs like "Book of Love", "I Will Steal You Back", and "Byebyelove" show that rawness and darker undertones are not out of reach as these guys have aged. The album has a less polished sound than their last release, and I think it's that difference that made this album so much better. It felt a lot less forced, and much more natural for the group. It was the surprise hit of the summer for me, and renewed my faith in the band to create fantastic music like Bleed American.
My Favorite Songs: Book of Love & Byebyelove
- Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience
JT came back this year, and he came back with a bang. After only recording for close to three weeks, he came out with 21 songs and two albums of pop gold. From the hip-hop beats to the throwback influence and extended songs everywhere, The 20/20 Experience spans genres and sounds to create one of the best records of the year, and one of the best in a long time. It all began with "Suit & Tie", the single that turned some away but put JT back in the spotlight. Part 1 was a huge success, being one of the top selling albums thanks to songs like "Pusher Love Girl", "Tunnel Vision", and "Mirrors". While those songs were the most pop and radio friendly, there were plenty of other songs that ventured into other genres, such as the jungle/exotic "Don't Hold The Wall" or the latin-influenced "Let The Groove Get In". The world was incredibly impressed with JT's comeback, but Part 1 wasn't the end; Part 2 hit the world a few months later, and I personally thought it was even better. Songs like "Take Back The Night", "TKO", and "Cabaret" are ready to hit the airwaves with glossy hooks, big band backings, and JT's incredible vocals. Others like "True Blood" and "Drink You Away" come off with different vibes, with the former channeling Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and the later dabbling in country. All in all, these albums presented some killer songs that show JT's power to dominate the music scene. Out of all the recent comebacks, this has to be one of those at the top.
- Panic! At The Disco - Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die
Panic has been up and down over the years, breaking out into the music scene with a new sound, losing half of their group, and coming back again stronger than ever. This album is no exception to their constant change of sound. This album draws on the 80's and electronic and comes out with a solid collection of songs. The opening "This Is Gospel" is one of the best songs Panic has ever done, with a energizing beat fueling high soaring vocals and roaring guitars. The intensity this song brought was continued throughout the album, on songs like "Miss Jackson", "Vegas Lights", and "Casual Affair". The band got in touch with its pop side as well with low-key "Girls/Girls/Boys" and makes-you-feel-like-you're-in-the-80's "Collar Full". The one song on the CD that is completely different from the rest is "The End Of All Things", a haunting and dark piano tune that makes you stop and truly listen. It is easily my favorite from the album, and possibly one of my favorite songs of all time. It reveals the true potential of the group, with its chilling vibe and utter beauty. With this album, Panic not only has one of the best albums of the year, but continues to show that they are not going down without a fight.
- Linkin Park - Recharged
Even though this album was a remix album, it was full of some of the best remixes I've ever heard, some of which came up to the par of the originals. It's been a while since Linkin Park did a remix album, with Reanimation coming out in 2002, but they did a fantastic job picking great collaborators to create a mix of hip-hop, dubstep, and dance anthems. The opening song, "A Light That Never Comes" is the only new material on the album, but is representative of everything that the band wanted to explore with these remixes. They collaborated with Steve Aoki for the dubstep/dance influence, had Mike write some killer raps, and brought it all together in an aggressive Linkin Park-nature. Their selection of collaborators was fantastic, bringing in known rappers such as Pusha T and Ryu from Styles of Beyond, and utilizing more unknowns like Bun B and Cody B. Ware to add some variety to their usual sound. Mike also wrote some new raps for the remixes that are easily some of the best he has written in years, hitting hard and turning people on their heads. They also brought in artists like Datsik, Killsonik, and Dirtyphonics to throw electronic distortion all over their tracks and make something fantastic. The wobbles and dirty synths found throughout the album fit with Linkin Park's repertoire incredibly well, enhancing their hard hitting nature and adding even more aggression into the music. All of these artists came together with Linkin Park to create some awesome remixes, and continue to show the versatility and adaptability of this band that has been one of my favorites over the years.
- The Maine - Forever Halloween
I didn't have a lot of expectations for this album, to be honest. I absolutely loved their last record, Pioneer, but wasn't terribly impressed with their singles for Forever Halloween. "Love & Drugs" and "Happy" took some getting used to, but once I did, I got hooked on them and the rest of the album. It continues on the path that Pioneer brought them to, moving away from their more mainstream early days and cementing themselves in a sound of their own choosing. They became more realistic, more cemented in what happened as people age and responsibilities and relationships make life not so carefree anymore. Songs like "Kennedy Curse", "These Four Words", and "Forever Halloween" reflect on hard times, lasting pain, and the struggles of dealing with adulthood. "These Four Words" is one of the best songs on the album, being a stripped down piano-driven track about love and the lack of it, and filled with vulnerability and honesty. Not all the songs are so somber, however; songs like "Happy", "Run", and (ironically) "Sad Songs" all have more upbeat natures, although they can get a bit down lyrically. That's part of the realism of the record though; it's not some polished and pretty tune that makes you want to dance blissfully, but songs of heart and emotion and humanity. That is why this album made it in my top list; it may not be the most catchy songs or the most cheery, but some of the most honest I've heard in a while.
- Tonight Alive - The Other Side
This album took the sophomore slump and beat it to a pulp. I was impressed by their debut, What Are You So Scared Of?, but this album blew my expectations out of the water. It took their darker nature, which I loved best, and brought it to the forefront, with aggressive songs like "Lonely Girl", "Hell and Back", and "Don't Wish". This album had a realistic sense to it, a lyrical vulnerability that helps you connect with the songs on an even deeper level. I personally think these guys shine when they get gritty and raw, and that was what they did throughout this whole album. Some other standouts were "The Other Side", "The Fire", and "The Ocean".
- We Came As Romans - Tracing Back Roots
These guys were one of my first "Hardcore" bands that I began listening to, and I have been following their career with great interest. This album saw them moving towards a more mainstream style while retaining their essence, which translates to having more generic song structures while keeping things intense, heavy, and uplifting. Songs like "Fade Away", "Never Let Me Go", and "Tell Me Now" all follow a more verse-chorus-verse-chorus type of pattern, but still contain great breakdowns and growling screams like they have always done. Another great part of this album was having David Stephens, their unclean vocalist, do clean vocalists, adding more variety to their songs. This album showed the continuing potential for what the band can become while showing off the great talent they have in this moment.
- A Day To Remember - Common Curtesy
After many delays and legal issues, A Day To Remember finally released their long awaited Common Curtesy in late November, and it was definitely worth the wait. This could be their best album to date, with a huge collection of songs that range from upbeat and catchy to lots of distortion and raw rage. "Violence (Enough Is Enough)", "Sometimes You're The Hammer, Sometimes You're The Nail", and "Dead & Buried" are just a few of the hard-hitting tracks that reveal ADTR's ability to still get gritty and intense. They also had some more lighthearted songs, such as "The City Of Ocala" and "Right Back At It Again", which have their heaviness but have a more fun sense to them. There is also a couple of acoustically based songs, like "I'm ALready Gone" and "I Surrender" that reveal the gentle side of the band, and their ability to be soft and intimate instead of intense. I was really pleased when I began listening to this record, and am impressed with the band for what they put out, despite their opposition.
- The Maine - Imaginary Numbers EP
This was truly a surprise release from the boys in The Maine. No one expected it, and no one expected it to be so incredibly good. This all acoustic, all original EP is a gem, a stunning set of 5 well done songs. Each have their own strengths that they bring to the collection, and each have qualities that make them stand out without outshining each other. "Raining In Paris" and "Visions" are love songs that bring to mind cloudy days spent inside warm and cozy. "Perfectly Out of Key" and "Room With No Windows" are different in sound, yet both are self-reflective pieces that take different looks at what life has done to us. The use of piano, guitar, percussion, and other instruments all comes together to create a sense of unity while having distinct songs. It was a short set of songs, but definitely full of creativity and continuing the honesty found in Forever Halloween.
- Pentatonix - PTX, Vol. 2
Pentatonix is one of the most talent groups out there right now, there's no question about it. Their latest release was a prime example of why I can make this claim, with a new collection of originals and covers that showcase the musical abilities these five contain. Covers like "Can't Hold Us", "Save The World/Don't You Worry Child", and the masterpiece medley "Daft Punk" show their talent for taking any song they cover and making it their own. They also expanded the number of original songs on this album, with tracks like "Natural Disaster", "Love Again", and "Run To You" revealing the diversity and incredibly creativity Pentatonix has. "Love Again" is inspired by the EDM movement, and could easily be played right next to the hottest club hits today. "Run To You" is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard, and my personal favorite from the album with the strictly harmonic elements building into a huge and epic sound. With this release, Pentatonix shows that they are only just getting started and don't plan on stopping anytime soon.