"There are three amazing nominees for soul/R&B album tonight: one, a white kid from the Mickey Mouse Club, another the son of the dad from 'Growing Pains' and a strong soulful Caribbean woman of colour," said Sarah Silverman when presenting at the recent American Music Awards. "I don't know who will win, but I do know who should find this most ironic if she loses."
Justin Timberlake ended up winning. But we probably shouldn't be surprised anymore. It's been a peculiar year for commercial R&B music. Check a lot of "best of" lists for this year and you'll find a lot of interesting artists who are categorized as R&B in the mainstream eye. Call it the "gentrification of R&B" -- it's a broadening genre that is seeing a variety of pure-play, indie and hybrid approaches to the music. Blurred lines, indeed.
The issue of white artists liberally "borrowing" elements of traditionally black musical genres such as jazz, hip-hop or R&B is a story that's been told time and time again over the decades. For every Elvis, there was a Bo Diddley; for the Rolling Stones, there's Muddy Waters; Eminem, there's Biggie. And of course, this year it's about hailing a Justin Timberlake, a Robin Thicke, and even a Mayer Hawthorne at the top of the genre in the post-millennium.
It's a sensitive issue: while you don't want to bring up the dreaded "race card," it's hard to ignore the fact that an artist like Justin Timberlake is doing the same shtick as black artists but has a much easier time ascending the mainstream charts.
Looking at the top R&B and soul records of 2013, to say that it's cross-culturally diverse would be an understatement. But let's look at things from a critical lens. The record biz, despite being on an upswing, is still hurting. Limited budget, limited resources mean that every record has to be a hit. Taking chances often isn't an option; it's about hitting that critical mass and you're more likely to appeal to the mainstream (read: dominant Western culture) on a broader scale by backing blue-eyed soul singers such as Timberlake or Thicke over an artist of colour. So it's about one colour: green. But to say that race doesn't factor into the entire proceeding on some level is kidding ourselves.
Take, for example, Janelle Monae. Had a good year, but didn't make the dent into the commercial consciousness as we might have hoped. Would she have had a monster year if she was white? It's a bit facile to speculate but it often comes down to self-identification. Why would the mainstream need a Janet Jackson when it has a Britney Spears? Why would the mainstream need a Miguel when they have Timberlake?
And that's taking nothing away from Timberlake's talent: he's damn good. And he's just making music based on the R&B influences he grew up with. And the industry, seeing how Timberlake represents such a lucrative demographic, is all too willing to back that particular horse.
That said, it was a good, not great year for traditional R&B music. Honourable mentions go to artists like Kelela, Ciara, Fantasia, and even Brian McKnight who all created decent albums in 2013. But the definitive "Best of 2013" list is incredibly diverse with artists of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds, all creating what they consider to be soul music.
Still. the irony Silverman astutely noted provides something to think about as you check out our best R&B albums of 2013 list (which, by the way, both Timberlake and Thicke are on, alongside Hawthorne and newcomer Rhye).
10. Robin Thicke - "Blurred Lines"
Robin Thicke manages to land at the end of this list by a hair; he is yet another testament to white artists doing their thing in a traditionally black genre in 2013. Yeah, "Blurred Lines" officially earned the title of "catchiest ear worm for the summer" this year — earning American-Canadian singer-songwriter Robin Thicke the breakout hit he's wanted since forever — but the song remains controversial both on the misogynistic and litigious side of things. Alan Thicke's baby boy incurred the wrath of many for the song's provocative lyrics and also ended up getting sued by, the estate of the late soul singer Marvin Gaye for "copyright infringement" for alleged similarities between the song and the classic "Got To Give It Up." But to be fair, as an album "Blurred Lines" actually holds up, especially considering that the blue-eyed soul singer can actually sing and write and has been doing so for years now without a mainstream hit. Before "Blurred Lines," that is.
9. Mayer Hawthorne - "Where Does This Door Go"
Ann Arbor, Michigan's Mayer Hawthorne truly found his groove in 2013 with third studio album "Where Does This Door Go." The Pharrell-produced album borrows elements of old-school soul through the lens of blue-eyed soul acts such as Steely Dan and Hall & Oates, transforming Hawthorne from someone who just dabbled in the genre to an artist finally taking things a bit more seriously. While his first two albums (2009's critically acclaimed "A Strange Arrangement" and 2011's "How Do You Do") felt a tad forced on the Motown soul tip, "Where Does This Door Go" holds up on repeated listens and stands as a promising direction for the "neo-soul" singer-songwriter.
8. Blood Orange - "Cupid Deluxe"
Released toward the end of the year, the fact that producer Dev Hynes's second album as Blood Orange is on this year is a testament to his strong brand of gritty, urban soul. As a long-time producer for artists such as Beyonce's little sis Solange Knowles, Florence Welch and the Chemical Brothers, with solo album "Cupid Deluxe" he lets his stylish aesthetic and diverse musical tendencies run wild, weaving in elements of classic R&B, pop and hip-hop to build a project that intrigues as it entrances.
7. Justin Timberlake - "The 20/20 Experience Part I"
If there's anyone who straddles the lines between crossover R&B and pop, it's Justin. The first part of his comeback two-parter "The 20/20 Experience" — which won an American Music Awards for Favorite Soul/R&B Album — is a reminder that Britney Spears' ex has successfully mined traditional R&B genre tropes for mass appeal and success. As a white soul singer, The Tennessee-raised Timberlake coins his falsetto-fuelled sound "Memphis Soul" and it's completely won over mainstream audiences.
6. Quadron - "Avalanche"
Producer Robin Hannibal truly had a great year, as evidenced by his second mention on this list. Danish duo Quadron, comprised of Hannibal and singer Coco O, dropped second album "Avalanche" to an unsuspecting soul-pop world and was an underrated hit. Off the strength of the poppy first single "Hey Love" — which was featured on TV's "Grey's Anatomy" — "Avalanche" takes its cues from soul by way of soft rock, pop and jazz to create one of the stronger efforts of 2013.
5. Zaki Ibrahim "Every Opposite"
If there ever was a feel-good Canadian soul music story for 2013, Zaki Ibrahim is it. Born in Nanaimo, B.C. and based in Toronto, Ibrahim's eclectic "Every Opposite" earns its worldly soul sound from being recorded in places such as South Africa. A surprise addition to this year's Polaris Music Prize shortlist, Ibrahim's success has been a long time coming.
4. Laura Mvula - "Sing to The Moon"
UK singer-songwriter Laura Mvula's album "Sing to The Moon" was perhaps one of the most intriguing R&B/soul projects of the year. With enthralling tracks like "She" and Green Garden," the 26-year old classically trained vocalist and composer masterfully brings together elements of orchestral soul, jazz and gospel — inviting comparisons to artists like Nina Simone — for an exceedingly strong debut album.
3. Rhye - "Woman"
Los Angeles duo Rhye's "Woman" was both a mystery and a revelation. The album arrived on the scene shrouded in a carefully crafted package that left many wondering who they were — and who was behind that androgynous contralto. Turns out it was Toronto-based singer Mike Milosh as the person behind the soulful curtain (backed by Danish producer Robin Hannibal) and "Woman" was R&B / soul backed by ethereal melodies and stirring production. A hidden gem for 2013, and an album worth listening to again and again.
2. Charles Bradley - "Victim Of Love"
If the soul-stirring sound and voice of Brooklyn-based Charles Bradley doesn't make you feel something inside, you should probably double check to see if you have a pulse. "Victim of Love" is surprisingly just the second studio album by the 65-year old vocalist and former James Brown impersonator. Classic soul in the vein of Brown, Otis Redding and Stax Records is having a bit of a revival time in the mainstream eye, giving artists like Bradley some long overdue time in the spotlight.
1. Janelle Monáe - "Electric Lady"
The album Janelle Monáe sonically unleashed to the world this year was simply electric. Second studio album "Electric Lady" was mind-blowing in the way it effortlessly melds throwback elements of jazz, funk, rock and soul into a futuristic body of work. The album remained a fixture on the R&B charts throughout 2013. Maybe it's her trademark tuxedo, the pompadour updo, or the effortless charisma she exudes, but the wunderkind from Kansas had a breakout year and "Electric Lady" stands as an instant classic.
BEST HIP-HOP ALBUMS OF 2013
By Anupa Mistry
10. Cam'ron - "Ghetto Heaven Vol. 1"
Overlong and cinematic, "Ghetto Heaven Vol. 1" is what Cam'ron resurfaced with in 2013. It's calamitous and non-committal and often tender, in typical Cam style. But what makes "Ghetto Heaven" required listening is the way Cam’ron continues to establish himself as the voice of the everyman through his allusions to social media ("Instagram Catfish") and hilariously apt sense of humour ("Talk To Me," "Come and Talk To Me"). Featured Track: "T.A.L.A.M"
9. Migos - "YRN"
The wacky ATL trio show out on "Young Rich Niggas," mixing Mother Goose chant-hooks ("Versace," "Hannah Montana") with equally playful, uncomplicated trap house tropes. They skitter about like kids playing tag and their collaborators – from Riff Raff, to Future to Drake (on the "Versace" remix) – are game to run along. That such idiosyncratic artists bend to Migos' giddy babble is a testament to the strength of their sound. It takes a lot to make something so deceptively simple work this well. Featured Track: "Hannah Montana"
8. Travis Scott, "Owl Pharoah"
As far as debuts go, Travis Scott's intricate post-rap paean "Owl Pharaoh" is a scorcher. (As far as EPs go, its overlong at 12 tracks). "Quintana" and "Blocka La Flame" are beautifully melodic fight songs; building blocks, hopefully, for Scott's future opus. If Kanye's "808s & Heartbreaks" could be considered the spiritual predecessor to this record, its clear Scott fully absorbed the aesthetic predilections of his rap god because, at points, "Owl Pharaoh" mirrors the aggressive arrhythmia and brooding interjections of "Yeezus" (which dropped three months later). Perhaps Yeezy, who worked on this record, did a little borrowing of his own?
7. Dom Kennedy - "Get Home Safely"
The latest in a steady stream of mixtape releases from the young Californian who makes laidback, pre-G-funk West Coast hip-hop for those who need a mellow reprieve from the assaultive synths and snares of #trending rap. GHS doesn’t work as hard as Dom’s previous "Yellow Album", but songs like “Black Bentleys” make it a captivating listen nonetheless – if only for the way his effusive flow and the Futuristics’ floaty productions so expertly evoke the summertime. Featured Track: "South Central Love"
6. Chance The Rapper - "Acid Rap"
"Acid Rap," Chance's second mixtape, was the great unifier in a rap landscape that is increasingly stratified based on aesthetic preference. Chance, who hails from Chicago, manages to straddle indie, commercial, and street rap demographics, with this pseudo-whimsical, nostalgia-streaked mixtape that pays homage to rap classics as well as Chicago's vibrant musical traditions. He's a deft, playful, engaging rapper who, as "Pusha Man" shows, can spin tragedy (in this case, Chicago's ongoing street carnage) into earworm-y prose. Featured Track: "Pusha Man (feat. Nate Fox & Lili K)"
5. Earl Sweatshirt - "Doris"
We expected Earl to return from his boarding school sojourn giddy to be free, grateful for the rapturous "Odd Future" fanbase, and spitting venomous raps in the vein of his eponymous pre-fame 2011 mixtape. What we didn't expect was a kid practically sobered-up by the entirety of the experience. "Doris" isn't bratty or particularly vengeful; it's practically repentant and shot through with integrity. The lone piano on "Chum" and sinister bassline melody on "Hive," paired with Earl’s doleful, dense delivery, are two of the best, most brilliant rap moments of 2013. Featured Track: "Hive"(ft. Vince Staples & Casey Veggies)
4. Isaiah Rashad - "Hurt Cobain"
This is an impressive, intelligent, introspective compilation mixtape from the newest addition to Kendrick Lamar's TDE crew, the only member from outside of California. A Tennessee native, Isaiah Rashad is a keen-eyed, breathless rapper who prefers a soundtrack of sweaty soul riffs and Erykah Badu samples, leaving all the grit and aggression to his delivery and performance – like a young, Southern-twanging Kanye West, minus the funnies. "S.B.B.B. (Goblins)" is the most uptempo, in-your-face track on here, and Rashad masters the pace without breaking a sweat. This isn't an official release – it's a compilation of previously released material – but it's a well-crafted introduction to the newest weapon in Kendrick's arsenal. Featured Track: "Hurt Cobain"
3. Drake - "Nothing Was The Same"
When this album came out, the shots against "Worst Behavior" by reviewers only served to reinforce their image as cloistered and clueless. What a song. It sends you barreling out the door after a disco nap, tips parties into a tailspin, and offers a variety of hashtags to help document the experience on social media (#WORST, #SHIT, #FLEXIN, etc.). With "NWTS," Drake reversed his #sadboys branding and made an album of tough tracks – without sacrificing any honesty. "From Time" and "Too Much" are beautiful songs, but am I the only one who skips them? If I wanted to feel feelings, I'd listen to "Take Care." Featured Track: "Started From The Bottom" (Explicit)
2. Kanye West - "Yeezus"
For an album intentionally positioned as a challenging listen and acquired taste, "Yeezus" is undeniable. That's what the critics will tell you, but cars are the real test and this summer a day didn't go without "Blood on the Leaves," or "Bound 2" blaring from open-windowed vehicles. So, maybe you have to struggle past the striated synths of "On Sight" before the good stuff – though the dusty soul break at its centre is such a jarringly confrontational touch – but "Yeezus" is a testament to the genius thing that 'Ye takes such pains to claim. He continues to expand the palette of both rap and popular music, in a way that Lady Gaga's paint-by-numbers pop art just can't.
1. Pusha T - "My Name Is My Name"
Over the past few years Pusha T's G.O.O.D. Music cameos, mixtapes, and Kanye West-indebted minimalist makeover built a small frenzy for a solo record amongst die-hard fans of the Clipse, his duo act with brother No Malice. And he followed through with a sleek, smart, and sinewy collection of rap songs. Push has always benefited from the guiding hand of a genius producer (with the Clipse it was Pharrell and the Neptunes), and on "MNIMN," we get the rap album Kanye could never do himself. "King Push" is the headiest, most confident rap intro of the year; the drums on "Suicide" are supreme; and, the Pusha/Kendrick Lamar tag-team on “Nosetalgia” prove lyricism and charisma can still co-exist. Featured Track: "King Push" (Explicit)
BEST ELECTRONIC ALBUMS OF 2013
By Ben Boles
10. A Tribe Called Red – "Nation II Nation"
Teaming up with Tribal Spirit Music gave Ottawa's A Tribe Called Red greater access to raw powwow music recordings, which allowed them to refine their proudly aboriginal club sound even further than on their critically-acclaimed self-titled debut. Featured Track: "NDN Stakes" (live)
9. Bonobo – "The North Borders"
The fifth album by UK downtempo mainstay Bonobo saw the producer subtly honing his trademark warm organic sound, and making superb use of guest vocalists like neo-soul goddess Erykah Badu and Brooklyn singer songwriter Reverend Grey. Featured Track: "Cirrus"
8. Ryan Hemsworth – "Guilt Trips"
The much-hyped Canadian producer's debut album successfully brought together his eclectic influences into a cohesive album that nimbly jumps between ambient hip hop, futuristic R&B, and dramatic dance floor flourishes. Featured track: "Against A Wall" ft. Lofty305
7. Disclosure – "Settle"
It was impossible to avoid the sounds of the young Lawrence brothers in 2013, and their debut full-length album easily lived up to the hype generated by their early singles. House music that actually makes as much sense at home as it does in the club. Featured Track: "When A Fire Starts To Burn"
6. Daft Punk – "Random Access Memories"
The French electronic music veterans came up with a novel way of updating their sound: instead of combing through old disco records looking for bits to sample, try to reproduce the techniques and approaches that created those classics. A much-needed analog counterpoint to EDM's digital dominance. Featured Track: "Lose Yourself to Dance"
5. Jessy Lanza – "Pull My Hair Back"
You can hear co-producer Jeremy Greenspan's fingerprints all over Jessy Lanza's stunning debut album, but it's her distinctive touch and haunting vocals that give "Pull My Hair Back" a sensual lushness that Greenspan's work with his own duo, Junior Boys, never achieved. Featured track: "Pull My Hair Back"
4. James Blake – "Overgrown"
You could argue that James Blake has moved so far beyond his post-dubstep roots that it would be more appropriate to call him a pop singer than an electronic act, but how many traditional ballads feature this much bowel-vibrating bass? Featured Track: "Retrograde"
3. Boards of Canada – "Tomorrow's Harvest"
2013 may have been a great year for 90s-inspired sounds, but wasn't so great for comeback albums by IDM and downtempo artists of that era. Boards Of Canada, however, managed to find a way of updating their sound without sacrificing what we love about them. Featured track: "Reach for the Dead"
2. DJ Koze - "Amygdala"
German techno DJ/producer Stefan Kozalla took a gleefully psychedelic approach to his first solo album in nine years, and also revealed a surprising knack for twisted pop hooks. Despite featuring a large cast of collaborators, it holds together perfectly as a cohesive album statement. Featured track: "Nices Wölkchen feat. Apparat"
1. Machinedrum – "Vapor City"
Travis Stewart revisited the original concept of his Machinedrum project on Vapor City, exploring the relationship between double-time drum'n'bass rhythms and half-time hip-hop beats, infused with a large dose of R&B melody. Bewildering to people who knew him only through his work with Azealia Banks, but inspiring to the rest of us. Featured Track: "Gunshotta"
BEST POP ALBUMS OF 2013
By Melody Lau
10. Sky Ferreira — "Night Time, My Time"
Plagued with a drug arrest scandal just prior to singer Sky Ferreira’s debut album release, "Night Time, My Time" became a highly overlooked — and severely under-promoted, as Ferreira pointed out in a Twitter rant against her record label — album which truly deserved all of our attention. It's a rewarding debut given the numerous delays behind its release, but the final product showed a pop artist whose versatility is well documented in this collection of songs, which vary from ‘80s power pop to Cat Power-inspired somber ballads. Standout track: “You’re Not the One”
9. Chvrches — "The Bones Of What You Believe"
Glasgow trio Chvrches, like many on this list, produced one of the year's best debut albums because of their ability to hone in a signature sound right off the bat. Their heavy synth barrage of vibrant electronics sounds perfected like a science, with every loop and programmed beat fitted into its very specific place to set off the perfect sound foundation for singer Lauren Mayberry's sharp, pointed words. A brazen display of modern technology, Chvrches' human touches is what completes their sound, creating an album that's simultaneously futuristic and charismatic. Standout track: “Lies”
8. Lady Gaga — "ARTPOP"
Lady Gaga gives us her best album yet with "ARTPOP," an aspiring work of meta-dance pop glory. It’s a cluttered album, but one that reveals humanity in the pristinely presented pop star. Tracks erupt with strange arrangements and production, but buried in there are indeed many melodic gems that manifest into anthemic throwdowns. It's the sort of wonderfully self-indulgent affair that is expected from Gaga, yet still pleasantly surprising. Standout track: “G.U.Y.”
7. Arcade Fire — "Reflektor"
Following up their Grammy Award-winning album "The Suburbs," Montreal indie-rockers Arcade Fire upped the ambition with a two-disc opus this year called "Reflektor." Embracing a more celebratory, upbeat sound that crosses over into pop territory -- with some help from LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy — "Reflektor" translates the band's reflective words into something worth dancing to as opposed to toiling over. It's a glittering piece of work that maintains the band’s sincerity while exploring new sounds that are just as big and determined. Standout track: "Afterlife"
6. Miley Cyrus – "Bangerz"
We may have fixated on many of Miley Cyrus’ actions this year – twerking, pot-smoking, pants-neglecting – but the true engine that drove the mania we saw before us was the pop star’s transformative album, "Bangerz." A matured step outside of the safe bubblegum hooks of her past, Cyrus embraced a bombastic new look and sound that actually paid off. Singles “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball” are among some of the year’s best songs with infectious melodies that possess a gift of longevity, a rarity in pop music today. But beyond that, the entire album proves to be an accurate portrait of a child star’s growing pains: it’s rebellious, it’s shameless and it’s everything one should expect from a 20-year-old woman trying to discover who she really is. Standout track: “Wrecking Ball”
5. Charli XCX - "True Romance"
Responsible for co-writing Swedish duo Icona Pop's breakout hit, "I Love It," British songwriter/pop star Charli XCX released her own full-length this year, crafting the perfect hooks for herself using similar traits from her most successful hit. Brash pop melodies combined with industrial, house and mainstream influences from many eras, Charli’s collage sound is very much the patchwork of a young woman who grew up in the age of the Internet (she's only 21). Still, what stands out most is the star’s writing abilities, which have since earned her opportunities to work with the Princess of Pop herself, Britney Spears. Standout track: "You (Ha Ha Ha)"
4. Ariana Grande — "Yours Truly"
Heavily lauded as the new Mariah Carey, Ariana Grande has some large, diva-sized shoes to fill and her debut album, "Yours Truly," delivers. Matching Carey’s range, octave for octave, Grande’s honeyed vocals soar above a set of equally saccharine ballad-pop piano and R&B-influenced songs. "Yours Truly" successfully pulls Grande out of the shadow of her predecessors and shines the spotlight forward on one of pop's brightest stars. Standout track: "Baby I"
3. Lorde – "Pure Heroine"
Pop took a new form in Ella Yelich-O’Connor, a.k.a. Lorde, this year. The now-17-year-old New Zealander burst onto the charts, spanning the board of genres from pop to R&B, with her breakout track “Royals,” which decries the unrelatable opulence espoused in the songs of her contemporaries. Her debut full-length "Pure Heroine" follows suit, showcasing Lorde's innate skill for crafting direct and honest lyrics about how it feels to be a normal teenager while navigating around sparse electronic arrangements inspired by bands such as The xx. The confident Lorde has proven that she has a lot to say — sometimes even outside of her music, as her ever-growing list of beefs might indicate — and we’re definitely excited to hear more from the young star in the years to come. Standout track: “Team”
2. Justin Timberlake – "The 20/20 Experience Part 1"
The music world welcomed back Justin Timberlake this year after a seven-year absence and "The 20/20 Experience Part 1" is just as lavish and extravagant as we had hoped for. Teaming up with longtime collaborator/producer Timbaland, "The 20/20 Experience" is Timberlake at his most polished and sophisticated as he flawlessly executes pop songs with his signature falsetto like the seasoned pro that he is. And even though the poorly thought-out mess that was "The 20/20 Experience Part 2" almost threatened to erase the progress of its more triumphant half, "Part 1" is a great, constant reminder that Timberlake does indeed belong on the charts even more than he does on the big screen. Standout track: "Mirrors"
1. Tegan and Sara – "Heartthrob"
Many would say that the sleek and polished pop of Tegan and Sara's seventh studio album "Heartthrob" was a huge departure from their past work, which dabbled in folk, punk and alternative rock. But what was always present in the band’s 15-plus years of writing and recording was their innate knack for a good melody. Instead of churning out another riff-heavy rock album, Tegan and Sara bravely jumped ship into the synth-pop game, resulting in a product that still held their integrity in its direct, lovelorn lyrics, but packaged in a radio-friendlier exterior that truthfully suits the band better. Standout track: “Closer”
BEST CANADIAN ALBUMS OF 2013
By Liisa Ladouceur
13. Monster Truck - "Furiosity"
Stepping up to the meat-and-potatoes rawk 'n' roll stage left void by Chad Kroeger getting busy with Avril instead of new Nickelback (#smallmercies), Hamilton's Monster Truck delivered riffs and roars aplenty on its debut full-length. The Junos anointed the band Breakthrough Group of the Year and "Furiosity" is a strong contender for next year’s Rock Album statuette. Featured Song: "The Lion"
12. Classified - "Classified"
Long gone are the days when only one Canadian rap artist could get attention at once. Far from the shadow of Drake, East Coast rapper Classified rose to the top of the country's charts with his 15th (!) studio album and its bouncy hit singles "Inner Ninja" and "3 Foot Tall." The disc is packed with notable collaborators —Kardinal Offishall, Raekwon, "X-Factor" star Olly Mur — but the real guest star is Classified the producer; his sharp talents will serve him well if, as he told Huffington Post earlier this year, he takes a break being an MC. Featured Song: "That Ain't Classy"
11. Daniel Romano - "Come Cry with Me"
This new platter of classic country should come packaged with handkerchiefs, for Daniel Romano's olde tyme hurting songs — many of which sound like they could have premiered at the Grand Ole Opry 50 years ago — will have you weeping in your beer and/or pillow. Romano's traditional drawl, sequinned suits and his irony-free performance style has been slowly but surely grabbing the attention of George Jones and Waylon Jennings fans as well as young listeners discovering traditional country for the first time. Featured Song: "He Lets Her Memory Go (Wild)"
10. Arcade Fire - "Reflektor"
Because even the worst Arcade Fire album — too long by half, a dance record you can't dance to — is better than most other albums these days. It's time to admit it, this is Canada's U2, and not every one of the band's experiments will be a winner but ultimately they will all be remembered. Featured Song: "Reflektor"
9. Young Galaxy - "Ultramarine"
Pretty indie pop is reaching critical mass out there, but Young Galaxy (Montrealers by way of Vancouver) made something special on this fourth record, conjuring pure pleasure from many different moods. "Pretty Boy" is the best kind of 21st century new wave; "New Summer" can take over from the Hip's "Bobcaygeon" as your favourite cottage sunset jam; "Fever" is classic clap-a-long. Basically, "Ultramarine" is the album you wanted "Reflektor" to be. Featured Song: "New Summer"
8. Tim Hecker - "Virgins"
Breaking out of the niche musical community that embraced his early experiments in drones and minimalism, Tim Hecker reaches new heights with this gorgeous collection of orchestral pieces. The abstract, unconventional structures and glitches of distorted noise are still there, but choreographed alongside organic instruments like woodwinds and harpsichord into a heavenly body of work. Featured Song: "Live Room + Live Room Out"
7. Brendan Canning - "You Gots 2 Chill"
Brendan Canning's not kidding. The second solo record from the Broken Social Scene founder is seriously mellowwwwww. The vibe is more living room than chill-out room, and each moment is carefully placed, fully present, from the opening acoustic guitar instrumental "Post Fahey" through dreamy folk for the Nick Cave and Elliott Smith lovers out there to the melancholy closer "Last Song for the Summer Hideaway." A fine follow-up move after Canning's soundtrack for the Lindsay Lohan flop "Canyons," putting him back on the 2013 "winners" list. Featured Song: "Plugged In"