The year's five best albums
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This year proved to be absolutely fantastic for the music industry. Picking just five albums to sum it up was tricky, and there are plenty of wonderful ones I've left out.
It should be noted that I used the Billboard chart-year system, which runs Dec. 1, 2012 to Nov. 30, 2013, to determine what albums should be considered a 2013 release, so that explains the lack of Beyonce.
Here are my definitive picks:
5. "Rumours (35th Anniversary Edition)," Fleetwood Mac
"Rumours" is a classic album, both for the rock genre and the music industry as a whole. Not only did it win the Grammy for Album of the Year, it's also one of the best-selling albums of all time and is frequently listed as one of the greatest albums of all time by music publications. Its acclaim is justified, as even after 35 years, the songs feature superb lyrical content, vocals and music that are sure to strike an emotional chord with anyone.
This anniversary edition comes in two versions, expanded and deluxe. The expanded, sometimes mislabeled as "deluxe," includes the original album along with the B-side "Silver Springs," a dozen previously unreleased live tracks and 16 unreleased takes from the album's recording session.
The deluxe edition, sometimes labeled as "super deluxe," includes all that content, plus an additional disk of outtakes from the 2004 reissue, a DVD copy of the 1977 documentary "The Rosebud Film" and the original album on vinyl. It's much pricier, clocking in at around $100, as opposed to $25 for the expanded edition.
Highlights: "Go Your Own Way," "Songbird," "I Don't Want to Know"
4. "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Soundtrack"
The "Catching Fire" soundtrack can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of how they feel about the "Hunger Games" series, though its songs of revolution and empowerment particularly provide catharsis for its target audience of young adults.
There's a hodgepodge of artists, ranging from the relatively obscure (The Weeknd) to the mainstream (Coldplay). Yet despite the variety of musical styles and performers, each track fits cohesively with the album's themes, preventing it from sounding too jumbled.
Highlights: "Elastic Heart" (Sia feat. The Weeknd and Diplo), "We Remain" (Christina Aguilera), "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" (Lorde)"
3. "Pure Heroine," Lorde
"Pure Heroine" is the album Lana Del Ray fans have been clamoring for, which is a shame since it's actually the debut of 17-year-old New Zealander Lorde, who is a fresh face for the pop industry in terms of her style as much as her presence. You're bound to know her, considering how often radio stations play her first single, "Royals."
Lorde wrote every song on the album, which explores the concept of youth in today's society, as well as the six others on the extended edition. There's a bleak, surprisingly mature aura throughout it ("I know we're not everlasting/We're a train wreck bound to happen," she sings on "A World Alone"). However, she manages to avoid an air of pretension by keeping her lyrics grounded in reality.
Highlights: "Tennis Court," "Royals," "Still Sane"
2. "Yeezus," Kanye West
In hindsight, West's 2010 album title, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," might have been a more apt title for "Yeezus" since it's the rapper's darkest, most twisted album yet. His rhymes are as clever as ever, even if you find them stupid and/or offensive ("A monster about to come alive again/Soon as I pull up and park the Benz/We get this b---- shaking like Parkinson's" is the album's intro).
West seems to search for a new sound with each album, and here, he's created an electronic, industrial hip-hop album. The resulting experiment is extremely jarring; tracks are full of synthesizers, and the vocals on "Hold My Liquor" crank Auto-Tune up to the point that they're a barely-coherent, drunken slur.
Still, West's experiment paid off, creating another fantastic record. Say what you want about him as a person, but there's no denying his musical skills.
Highlights: "On Sight," "Black Skinhead," "I Am a God"
1. "Modern Vampires of the City," Vampire Weekend
In my review in May, I declared "Modern Vampires of the City" one of the best albums I had heard all year. Obviously given its position on this list, I stand by that statement. I can't think of a single album released this year that's as much of an enjoyable audio trip as "Modern Vampires."
There's more emotional heft in "Modern Vampires" than the band's previous two albums, and there's an atmosphere of (arguably newfound) maturity throughout it. Lead singer Ezra Koenig's lyrics are still as witty as ever, though. While it's tempting to just listen to the catchy tracks (the entire album is a gigantic earworm), it's best to block out the distraction of the music in order to stop and analyze the words.
Highlights: "Unbelievers," "Step," "Diane Young"