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Reviews

Albums of the year 2013

Jude Mason

2013 wasn't one of those years defined by one artist in the way that Adele owned 2011. Instead, this was a bumper year for quality music across many genres. New artists delighted, veterans returned strong, pop singles reigned, and vinyl sales continue to go from strength to strength.

In terms of column inches it's always going to be the fallen angels that provide the rags with the riches they desire. This year it was Miley Cyrus… and her tongue. The hype over her ridiculous display of shackle-free living unfortunately overshadowed the fact that her album, Bangerz, is pretty darn fantastic, and that her voice on 'Wrecking Ball' is every bit as sultry as the much-hyped Lana Del Ray's.

The recipient of Miley's now-famous twerking was Robin Thicke, whose 'Blurred Lines' is both my favourite track of the year, and so strongly resembles Marvin Gaye's 'Got To Give It Up' that the legal wrangle will last well into 2014.

Other strong pop showings came from Katy Perry (who continues to delight), Bruno Mars (who is a joy to watch), Sara Bareilles (whose 'Brave' delivers the message we actually want our tweens to hear), One Direction (whose meteoric rise and current ownership of planet pop actually warm my heart), and the unlikely Norwegian comedy duo Yilvis who have taught us all what 'The Fox' says.

The biggest rock albums came not from newcomers, but established bands who continue to find - or rediscover - their groove with their fourth, fifth or sixth album. Queens Of The Stone Age (6th), The National (5th), Kings Of Leon (6th), Arctic Monkeys (5th) and Arcade Fire (4th) all released excellent records that grow even better with repeated listening. Vampire Weekend's (3rd) Modern Vampires Of The City was, particularly, better than anyone expected after 2010's somewhat disappointing Contra.

The kings of Hip Hop got a bit clever this year, and left many people scratching their heads. Jay Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail had a couple of good singles but lacked the depth that had been hoped for, while Kanye West's Yeezus took him to such new depths that many bailed out (me included) before discovering the excellence that has landed the album atop many year-end polls. Personally, my 2013 hip hop heart belongs to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, whose Thrift Shop and Same Love I am still not sick of hearing.

Two worship albums nominated for Grammys this month come from Matt Redman and Matt Maher. Mr. Redman's Your Grace Finds Me is a tour-de-force, and Mr. Maher's live recording All The People Said Amen is definitely worth seeking out. Other fantastic albums you may have missed come from artists formally on Christian labels, but now masters of their own indie destiny: Jars Of Clay's Inland, which is a mature and worthy chunk of brilliance, and Audrey Assad's fragile and sacred Fortunate Fall.

Veterans that made a surprisingly strong comeback include David Bowie, whose surprise release of The Next Day shocked the heck out of everyone. Paul McCartney's New is getting radio play all over the place, and One True Vine from Mavis Staples, My Bloody Valentine's M.V.B and Push The Sky Away by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds show that you never know when an artist is going to make their best album yet.

Electronic music must not be forgotten! Daft Punk may have owned the summer, but Disclosure, Boards Of Canada, Jon Hopkins and Chvrches are all worth some Spotify time and a bit of your hard earned cash.

Finally, the ladies. In a year where Miley's nudity and twerking showed us that so much stays the same in the objectification of female musicians, there were also the women playing by their own rules - as much as they can: Laura Marling, Haim , Laura Mvula, Kasey Musgraves and Neko Case span genres and ooze talent. And if there has to be a queen of 2013 it's Lorde, the gifted 17-year-old from New Zealand whose 'Royals' is just the tip of the iceberg. Billboard was right to say she's 'the most vocally striking and lyrically thought-provoking' artist to breakthrough in recent times.