Top Albums of 2013: # 12, 11, 10

fitz more than

12. Fitz and The Tantrums, MORE THAN JUST A DREAM

Pickin’ Up The Pieces was always going to be a hard act to follow; the funny thing about More Than Just A Dream is that the best cuts (all of ‘em front-loaded in the album’s first half) try something new—specifically, they incorporate explicit, post-1970s influences into the band’s trademark retro soul. Such a hybrid not only accentuates the Daryl Hall-isms already inherent in Michael Fitzpatrick’s voice but also suggests they wanna be something more unique than just the white-boy version of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings; I hope they’ll continue broadening their horizons on album # 3.

Best tracks: “6 AM”, “Break The Walls”, “The Walker”

Video for “The Walker”:

IronAndWine–GhostOnGhost

11. Iron and Wine, GHOST ON GHOST

Sam Beam’s musical nom de plume began as minimalist folk but he added more instruments and embellishments until taking it too far with the overcooked Kiss Each Other Clean. Thankfully, he’s recanted here, not stripping down by any means but delicately refining his sonic palette. Though still relatively slick, there’s crispness in its density and a beguiling sense of adventure that’s expansive but never bites off more than it can chew. Plus, as a singer Beam has rarely sounded better, even recalling a distaff Tracey Thorn (of all people) on yearning mid-tempo shuffle “The Desert Babbler”.

Best tracks: “The Desert Babbler”, “Lover’s Revolution”, “Singers and the Endless Song”

Video for “The Desert Babbler”:

janelle electric lady

10. Janelle Monae, THE ELECTRIC LADY

The thing with an artist as precocious and far-seeing as Monae is that, like Nellie McKay or Ani DiFranco, she’s always going to do what she wants and when she’s on, her impact nearly makes up for the times she’s off. So, delete the time-wasting skits, maybe even put the remaining tracks on shuffle and let yourself be repeatedly dazzled by her verve and occasional ingenuity. She plays well with others (especially Prince and Miguel), but whether she’s “giving face” in the best RuPaul sense (“Q.U.E.E.N.”), crafting her own “Hey Ya!” (“Dance Apocalyptic”) or sailing off into psychedelic sensuality (“Sally Ride”), it’s All About Her (and lucky for us, she’s mostly fabulous).

Best tracks: “Dance Apocalyptic”, “Sally Ride”, “We Were Rock and Roll”

Video for “We Were Rock and Roll”:

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