I have an eclectic taste in music, and I don’t listen to the radio. I enjoy music based on what I discover through experiences, through recommendations from friends, through browsing the playlists on Spotify and seeing what catches my eye and ear. The albums represented here are not the only ones I listened to in 2013, but these the ones actually released in the last year that I enjoyed the most.
1) Love Has Come for You by Steve Martin & Edie Brickell. The former earthy late 80’s pop star joins with the film star (and true renaissance man) to create one of the best albums of 2013. It’s not just bluegrass or folk, it’s the best of everything with stunning banjo playing by Martin, wonderful vocal performances by Brickell, and a combination of sadness and melancholy joy that combine to make a truly wonderful listening experience. Anyone can sound good remixed a million times, but here is a great example of true, unvarnished talent.
2) Random Access Memories by Daft Punk. Late to the Daft Punk game, having only picked them up due to their amazing score for the recent Tron film, I was blown away by the excellence of their latest album. It’s 1980’s style house music. It’s an aural homage to the dance music of an earlier era, and it’s also brilliantly produced. Yes, it’s remixed and autotuned and everything that one is supposed to hate about today’s music. But it’s so freaking good.
3) The Shocking Miss Emerald by Caro Emerald. Don’t try to categorize this album. Sit back and relax a wonderful vocalist doing what she does best: creating a contemporary yet very timeless collection of jazz-inspired techno-swing. Wait–is that categorizing? Caro Emerald’s latest album combines stylistic touches of New Orleans style jazz with lush strings with sardonic and witty lyrics and enough contemporary stylings to make you feel like you’re sitting in a Paris nightclub about to experience something new. Seriously, categorization isn’t possible. So just enjoy.
4) Momentum by Jamie Cullum. Why this man isn’t more famous in America is beyond me. More than just a great vocalist, he is one of the most talented piano players out there, takes chances with every album, and continues to surprise. While this album is a big departure from his more jazz-based roots, it’s easily one his best, combining jazz, pop, R&B, a little rap and God only knows what else into a compelling listening experience. Writing, singing, playing–Jamie does it all, and with incredible panache.
5) Frozen by Various Artists. The soundtrack to Disney’s latest animated feature is a superb collection of songs and music. The Deluxe edition also features songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez talking about and sharing demos of songs written for but not used in the film. The songs actually used in the film are all top notch, creating Disney’s best musical score in years. While Broadway star Idinia Menzel doesn’t disappoint with her performance of the big song (“Let It Go”), it’s TV star Kristen Bell who surprises with the most engaging Disney princess vocals since Jodi Benson appeared for the first time as Ariel in The Little Mermaid. And Christophe Beck’s score is fantastic, using native Norwegian instruments and vocals to create a musical landscape that beautifully evokes the films Scandinavian setting.
6) The Circle Sessions by The Circle Session Players. Music arranged specifically to be played at the new Carthay Circle Theater in Disney California Adventure, the album is a perfect collection of jazz-based stylings of classic Disney songs. Inspired by Dave Brubeck’s classic Dave Digs Disney, it’s a bunch of LA’s best studio players creating classic jazz inspired by very familiar songs. Nothing cheesy or smooth, this is just great music to listen to, all the more enjoyable because as it plays you get a familiar smile of recognition every once in awhile. A true gem.
7) The Great Gatsby: Original Score by Craig Armstrong. If you experienced the movie version released in 2013, you may have enjoyed the anachronistic musical choices. I liked a few, but I prefer this music that underscores beautifully the gorgeous film by Baz Luhrmann. Armstrong has always scored Luhrmann’s movies, and his choices for this score continue to be the musical foundation that drives the story forward. Beautiful strings, gorgeous vocals (by Lana del Rey) and the underlying qualities of the film itself: hope, loss, and love.
8) Lindsey Stirling. A dancing violinist who combines classical music with dubstep, trance, and God only knows what else, Stirling was rejected by America’s Got Talent in 2010, became a YouTube sensation (with one song being 2013’s 8th biggest hit with 63 million views), and has recorded an album of her unique song style. She’s probably not the greatest violinist in the world, and I don’t know how she can dance and play at the same time, but the music is unlike anything I’ve heard in awhile. And I like being surprised.
9) Home by Marie and the redCat. Technically released in 2012, it was with the song “Beautiful Day,” used in Starbucks’ summer commercials in 2013, that I found this strange little band from Germany. They have already disbanded after recording one album, but that album is fantastic. Marie’s alto voice has a husky quality that adds depth to the light tone of the music and instrumentation, and whoever the guys are that make up the redCat are talented as well. Pop music for people that don’t like pop music, and better than almost everything you’ll ever hear on the radio. Except for the fact that this is the only album by them. Ever.
10) Native by OneRepublic. Probably the only pop band out there right now who I truly enjoy. Ryan Tedder’s voice is so good, the songs are beautifully written and yes, it’s an album where you can enjoy every song and not just the one or two singles guaranteed for airplay. Lyrically, the songs are strong. Musically, there’s nothing over produced or what may feel manufactured. And it’s just great to have a pop album that doesn’t sing about sex. The final song, “Preacher” is all about Tedder’s grandfather. It’s a great album that reminds us that “with every broken bone, I lived.” This is pop music at its finest.