If DJ Earworm's mashup is any indication, 2013 was a year for dark pop music--in part because many artists released melancholic tracks (some of which were very good), and in part because other artists released troubling and/or degrading material. However, the year did yield some extremely likable and even albums. In general, 2013 was a stronger year for albums than the last, despite being short on as many great singles.
The most exciting debut from the past twelve months is, hands-down, Ariana Grande's wonderful Yours Truly. Continuing the current 90s revival, Grande's first release sounds like the kind of LP Whitney Houston would have released in 1990. (It's no coincidence that its producer, Babyface, was the same man behind Houston's I'm Your Baby Tonight.) What's interesting is that the album is extremely mature, cohesive, and sophisticated for a debut, not to mention it bares reasonable comparisons to the best albums by Houston and Mariah Carey. Mixing girl-group pop, R and B, and soul, Grande delivers the material with grace. She is the most exciting new vocalist in the classic pop diva vein, and her vibrant presence makes the entire record a pleasure.
Veteran artists also made strong returns, sometimes reinventing and reinvigorating their sound. Tegan and Sara fall into this category with their masterful Heartthrob. A sharp, expertly produced, and concise collection of love songs cast in 80s-style synth-pop, it is the year's perfect pop record. Every song is well crafted with a strong hook, working both as an individual unit and a part of the album as a whole. What's surprising is that the entire project is as good as the excellent break-through single, "Closer." I have listened to it countless times, and (dropping in January) it set a high bar for all the LPs that followed.
The UK edition of Jessie J's sophomore effort, Alive, is also strong, if not as perfectly crafted as Tegan and Sara's work. The album does suffer from some sleepy tunes and odd sequencing, but the record is more cohesive than its predecessor and it reaches such wonderful highs that it makes up for it less stellar moments. From the arena-ballad of "Thunder" to the neo-disco "Daydreamin,'" the album has so many delicious moments that warrant repeat plays. By the time you reach the concluding title track, any listener is sure to find gems they want to replay; I certainly did.
My year was definitely dominated by a handful of strong LPs, though I certainly liked others that I hope to spend even more time with, such as Paula Cole's lovely Americana Raven, HAIM's sharp debut Days are Gone, and Panic! At The Disco's invigorating emo-glam Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! Each are excellent in their own right, and they will likely soundtrack my winter.
That said, I have yet to even discuss my two favorite most played albums, each of which will get their own future posts soon. So, stay tuned, dear reader, and happy listening!