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CHARGED.fm's 25 Favorite Albums of 2013: 10-6

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

HAIM, Chance the Rapper, Lorde and The Head and the Heart all crack our top ten.

CHARGED.fm's 25 Favorite Albums of 2013: 10-6

2013 was an absolutely fantastic year in music. Almost too fantastic, and the only reason I say that is because there was too much to listen to. Just when I started to truly dive into something, another new single or album was out there. But we did our best to listen to as much as we could, and these are our 25 Favorite Albums of 2013.

Previous Installments: 25-21, 20-16, 15-11 

10. Lorde - Pure Heroine

It's impossible to escape the tidal wave that is Lorde. Try as you might, you are going to end up hearing "Royals" or "Tennis Court" or something off of Pure Heroine. Or maybe you will find another celebrity complaining about her, telling her to respect her female peers, or some other weird happening brought on by her seemingly indifferent attitude toward her celebrity.

And that's what I love about her and her album. There's a brash sort of cockiness that permeates from the whole album and the way she presents it. Pure Heroine is all very straightforward. There isn't much complexity, just Ella Yelich-O'Connor's voice and some ambient, synthetic and electronic sound to fill out the rest of her songs. And at 17, a lot of her songs boil down to fairly simple but completely universal themes. "400 Lux" is basically about a boy she likes. While many people want to read into "Royals," it's essentially about knowing where you come from despite what pop culture often demands we strive for. That's what I like most about the album: Lorde isn't trying to be something that she isn't, or do more than she might be capable of. She's perfectly content with where she is, and where it is happens to be pretty great.

Essential Track:  "Royals"

9. Janelle Monáe - The Electric Lady

It's one thing to create an awesome album, which Janelle Monáe is showing us she is incredibly good at. It's another thing to create conceptual universes and characters for that album to live with like Monáe has done with The ArchAndroid and now with The Electric Lady. Both albums play like a cosmic journey that sweep you up from start to finish, and The Electric Lady picks up where the other left on. It's another ambitious project from Monáe, one that she really succeeds with.

The tracks drift seamlessly from funk to hip-hop to soul to R&B to jazz and everything in between. I think that vocally, Monáe could be this generation's Diana Ross, but she combines that with the ingenuity of Stevie Wonder. Her voice is so silky smooth and powerful, but she is so much more than just that. What comes across on the album is her creativity, theatricality and her unbridled energy, and those kinds of things set her apart from many of her contemporaries. 

I think that Monáe might actually be a robot of some kind, because it's amazing that she can put out these incredible albums that are so rich with such regularity.

Essential Track: "Q.U.E.E.N. (ft. Erykah Badu)"

8. HAIM - Days Are Gone

Public perception of HAIM can be a little all over the place. Some of that might stem from heaps of praise being thrown on the California sisters long before they had an album out. They kind of rode that momentum for a while without putting anything else out, and that might be why some people began to tire of the never-ending hype. Other people could give a shit about that and just like the music that they put out, regardless of how much they have produced.

But that album finally came out, and it's a pretty stunning debut. Danielle, Alana and Este Haim all showcase their considerable talents across this track, and it's even more evident when you watch them perform live. Danielle handles the lion's share of singing duties, but Alana (the youngest) and Este (the oldest) each get their own moments throughout the album. "The Wire" (the song, not the show) is the best example of this, where they all get to shine with vocal solos and some nice instrumental parts. When they aren't singing individually, they really layer their voices well, adding depth with call-and-response parts or harmonies.

For such a new group, their first album is incredibly polished on a lot of levels, too. From the slick, soft rock sound (such a refreshing thing to hear, because who doesn't love things that sound like Fleetwood Mac?) to their mature and focused lyrics on love found and lost, I think this album lived up to the hype. Plus, listening saves you from getting bombarded with Este's "Bass Face" over and over.

Essential Track: "Falling"

7. Chance the Rapper - Acid Rap

It's hard for me to pinpoint what I like so much about Acid Rap. I'll try and make a quick list of those things:

• Chance's lyrical prowess, where he can subtly drop in clever references and punchlines at a moment's notice.
• The "Murderers' Row" of songs in the middle of the album: "Interlude (That's Love)," "Favorite Song," "NaNa" and "Smoke Again."
• The honesty that Chance shows when touching on subjects like his drug use, his hometown of Chicago and his relationships.
• The strong production and beats.
• Features from artists like Twista, Childish Gambino, Action Bronson, Ab-Soul and Vic Mensa.
• Chance's flow, even the little screams and almost OCD-level eccentricities that occupy his lines.

I pretty much like it all. Acid Rap just made a really strong impression on me because it just feels like Chance has a specific voice that is perfectly realized on this album. I can't wait for the follow-up, whenever it comes.

Essential Track: "Good-Ass Intro (Good Job)"

6. The Head and the Heart - Let's Be Still

Let's Be Still might not be as good as their breakout self-titled debut from 2011, but it's still an incredible album that pushes the boundaries of what this group defines itself as. It's easy to pigeonhole the group as a folk band, and there are plenty of moments throughout that play to that kind of a genre. But this album is filled with plenty of pop as well, and it's still rich with the same kind of songwriting that made the first album so lasting.

Not to get all personal here, but I like to use my Dad as a barometer for a lot of the music I listen to. He absolutely loves this record, and he has specific taste when it comes to today's music. But if a band has universal appeal and can tap into the consciouses of older generations, that's a really telling sign of their ability to make endearing music.

Even though the band is trying new things here, like on the track "Summertime," all of the songs have a heartfelt quality about them. They fall back into their more traditional sounds, but the constant theme is sincerity and lyrics can make you stop to contemplate what they are singing about. The Head and the Heart make me think more than a lot of other bands about how their lyrics relate to me. The album title probably isn't meant to be taken literally, but that's what happens to me when I listen to them. It's a chance for me to slow down and just enjoy it all.

Essential Track: "Another Story"

Check back for the conclusion of our countdown tomorrow and to find out what our favorite album of 2013 was.

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