By ALEXA WILLIAMS ’14, GALEN CHUANG ’17, KAT MALLARY ’17
Arts Editor and Assistant Arts Editors
Among all the music released in 2013, there were both disappointments and triumphs. Here are the arts editors’ picks for best albums of the year.
“Reflektor” – Arcade Fire
The longtime favorite band of … okay, everyone, has impressed yet again with its fourth studio album. “Reflektor” was inspired by a trip to Haiti, and Caribbean influences can be heard in the dominating rhythms. The lyrics are intriguing with social commentary scattered throughout, and the tracks are lushly orchestrated without being too dense. The uncommonly long lengths of the songs only emphasize this album’s success at being freshly unique.
“AM” – Arctic Monkeys
The boys have grown up fast, but you can still hear snippets of their teenage years in this album. AM is more pop and riff-filled than we’re used to, but that doesn’t mean the songs lack substance. There’s the psychedelic darkness they found in “Humbug,” but also the sarcastic bite of the earlier “Favourite Worst Nightmare” and “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.” The biggest question now is: where will the Arctic Monkeys go next?
“Random Access Memories” – Daft Punk
Daft Punk reminds us of the good old days by giving a nostalgic taste of 70-80s soft disco rock. Tracks featuring Pharrell Williams, Julian Casablancas, and Paul Williams add a collaborative air to the album. This album is full of impossibly catchy songs in a more soulful style than expected from the techno duo, yet the album remains unmistakably the work of Daft Punk.
“The Next Day” – David Bowie
Ten years after any major activity from the elusive chameleon that is David Bowie, “The Next Day” offers a point of view from an aging rock star, content with his position in the world. Contemplative verses and critical rock tunes impart observations and advice from the man who’s seen and done it all.
“Shangri-La” – Jake Bugg
The sophomore album from the English singer-songwriter is essentially a superbly constructed country rock album, with strong influences from Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. Bugg’s songs may be relatively simple, but his twangy voice delivers thoughtful lyrics as the album vascillates between rock tunes and nostalgic ballads.
“The Electric Lady” – Janelle Monáe
Kansas City-born Janelle Monáe is a great singer and performer, and she knows it. The swaggering, extravagant R&B atmosphere flows through the entire album, and nearly every track is unbelievably catchy. “The Electric Lady” is a sure mood-booster, but certainly not without artistic and musical content.
“Trouble Will Find Me” – The National
This album is nearly as pessimistic as the title suggests. Yet there’s something else there—maybe it’s the soft instrumentation, enigmatic lyrics or mellow vocals—that lends it a certain tenderness. Somehow making every song sound as if it was written for you, The National has crafted a beautiful album.
“Can’t Talk Medicine” – Pickwick
This is the best band no one’s heard of. The Seattle sextet delivers headbanging soul through ensemble energy, thoughtful lyrics and powerful vocals. Pickwick’s debut full-length album was recorded in a living room using an eight-track and incorporating found sounds, giving the album a distinctively raw and robust quality.
“Racine Carrée” – Stromae
Belgian techno artist Stromae may not be well-known in the United States yet, but his new album may change this. His lyrics are known in the Francophone world as being remarkably clever and meaningful, but even without the words, his beats and riffs are universal. Stromae seems to have the special ability to make any song as danceable as humanly possible.
“Images du Futur” – Suuns
On first listen, the Montreal quartet is just an electro-rock band with solid, unique beats. But listen more closely, and their ever-present angst reveals itself, barely under the surface. Proudly uncharismatic, “Images du Futur,” with its dark, gritty sound, isn’t trying to be anything else.
“Modern Vampires of the City” – Vampire Weekend
The choice of title might be questionable, but the contents of the album are exactly the opposite. While still retaining the characteristic Vampire Weekend bouncy-synth-pop-plus-Ezra-Koenig’s-voice sound, the album goes deeper and farther—in music and subject—than anything the band has released so far.
“Yeezus” – Kanye West
Not everyone can appreciate Kanye West’s personality and media presence, but his new album is something else. Though containing themes that have been present in most of West’s past albums, “Yeezus” has an edgier, more panicked atmosphere. Simple elements combine to create an album full of sudden noise, jump-cuts and unexpected silence. To quote Lou Reed, “The guy really, really, really is talented.”
Alexa is a senior studying English and Chinese who doesn’t use twitter but her tumblr (and Steam) username is Lyrox.
Galen Chuang is a first-year interested in studying computer science and music. She plays violin and Ultimate Frisbee.
Kat Mallary is a first-year from New York City and Vermont currently trying to major in everything. She also rides for the Wellesley Equestrian Team and reads too many books about English grammar.