Daniel Romano sings hurtin’ songs -- tales of heartbreak and the loneliness at the bottom of a bottle. He does it with a pronounced twang and a drawl to his voice while wearing a cowboy hat and a sequined “Nudie” suit, the type associated with the glory days of the Grand Ole Opry.
But please don’t call him country.
The Canadian singer-songwriter has rejected the country tag, coining himself instead “The King of Mosey.”
"'Mosey' is a term I made up," explains Romano. "Basically, it just means classic country."
So why not just call it “classic country”? That’s definitely where one would file Romano’s latest album, "Come Cry with Me". The problem, says the 28-year-old, is when he tells people he plays traditional country music, most don’t even know what that is.
“The meaning of country has changed pretty drastically,” he says. “So if you tell people you play classic country, the average Joe thinks you mean Tim McGraw. It was fine when people used ‘new country’ for that stuff, but somehow that has gone away and it is now just 'country.' But it’s not. It’s some kind of rock ‘n’ roll, super pop, dumbed-down version of what country was.”
Romano is certainly not alone in this opinion. The late country icon George Jones, in an interview with the Associated Press, accused pop acts like Taylor Swift of stealing country’s identity. “What they need to do really, I think, is find their own title, because they’re definitely not traditional country music,” he said.
One can only imagine what Jones would make of DeeJaySilver, a DJ/producer signed to Sony Music Nashville who mashes country with dance music. (See his remix of Carrie Underwood’s “Two Black Cadillacs”.)
Daniel Romano - "Time Forgot (To Change My Heart)"
Carrie Underwood - Two Black Cadillacs (DeeJaySilver remix ft Dolly Parton)
Jimmy Eat World - I Will Steal You Back
Taylor Swift - Red
Johnny Hollow - Hollow World
SAXON - Denim & Leather
Depeche Mode - Heaven
koRn - Never Never
George Jones - He Stopped Loving Her Today (Live)
Black Sabbath - God Is Dead?
The blurred lines of music genres exacerbate artists’ frustrations with having to label their work at all. And subgenres, usually coined by journalists, DJs or other music industry types and arbitrarily applied based on looks as much as sound, are often met with resistance, if not downright ridicule.
Most recently, dubstep and EDM seem to have been embraced without much distain, but modern music history is littered with bad words -- nu metal, goth, electronica, grunge, emo -- all vehemently rejected by the bands that made them famous.
Witness Jimmy Eat World singer Jim Adkins telling the BBC, “We've never considered ourselves emo,” or Jonathan Davis from Korn insisting “'nu-metal' was made up for all the bands that followed us … we're just Korn.”
And yet, while some such made-up musical genres are mercifully short-lived (wherefore art thou, “electroclash”?), most of them do stick. Artists can plead all they want, but sometimes all that’s left to do is take the piss (see: Kurt Cobain appearing in photographs wearing a T-shirt that read “Grunge is dead”) or at least appreciate the fact that labelling helps listeners find, and buy, new music.
Vincent Marcone of the band Johnny Hollow is rare breed of goth who actually doesn’t hate being called goth. While he sympathizes with artists who reject the derogatory "g-word" for fear of “being dismissed as a 'goth band' by the music media,” he doesn’t share their derision.
“For me as a teenager, the ‘goth’ umbrella helped me discover a variety of new music -- not just Bauhaus and Joy Division but Cocteau Twins, Depeche Mode, Portishead,” he says.
“To this day, I am fond of the term, and am nothing but flattered when a fan refers to us as ‘goth.’ It does not define Johnny Hollow completely, but it is a part of the thematic palette that we use in our music.”
On the flipside of all this you have the headbangers, who literally wear their genre on their (denim and leather) sleeves. When the term “heavy metal” was first introduced around 1973, it was retroactively applied to underground rock bands such as Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Uriah Heep, who mostly rebuffed attempts to put their music in a box, but, as author Martin Popoff explains it, things changed in the early 80s with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
“Rockers were feeling under siege from the world of punk and new wave,” says Popoff, who has written more than 40 books on the history of hard rock and metal.
“So they end up forming a tribe. They start to say, ‘Hey, we are heavy metal, and we are perfectly fine with that term.’ At this time, the bands look metal, the fans look metal, and every song on these records, starting around 1980-81 in the UK, is very heavy metal. They even start writing songs about being heavy metal, like Saxon’s ‘Denim and Leather’. They were proud.”
Then came hair metal. The glam bands from L.A. may have sold millions of albums but they presented an image of metal that many headbangers found ridiculous and were quick to distance themselves from.
“In metal, you didn’t want to be associated with hair metal,” says Popoff. “This is why grunge bands didn’t want to be called metal, it was the perception. And even today, there is a lingering bit of that. Even though metal is cool and viable again some people say “we’re metal’ not “heavy metal.’”
In this respect, hair metal and new country have a lot in common. Both bought a genre of non-commercial music to the Top 40, in a pop fashion that irked intensely loyal and protective fans of the more traditional versions, and with a level of success that forever changed the very definition of the genre itself. Metal survived by splintering into even more extreme subgenres, while classic country has Daniel Romano and his ilk pushing to keep it alive.
“You have to call your music something,” says Romano. “I know that with ‘mosey’ I’m always going to have to explain what I mean, but I hope it will intrigue people to find out more. I know that other people are going to fall in love with that style of music again and realize it’s a tradition worth protecting.”
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10. Brad Paisley - "Wheelhouse"
Perhaps the most daring album on this list full of daring albums, Nashville megastar Brad Paisley's overtly progressive "Wheelhouse" swings for the fences, and sometimes lands a homer. Indeed, on a couple tracks he even manages a walk-off grand slam. Tackling Southern-pride-cum-xenophobia ("Southern Comfort Zone"), domestic violence ("Karate"), and even religion ("Those Crazy Christians"), Paisley heads way out on a skinny limb, daring his listeners to pepper him with stones. If his songs weren't so catchy, his vocals so radio-friendly, his guitar playing so virtuosic, the record might not have been able to sneak through so easily. (Remember, it wasn't that long ago that the Dixie Chicks found themselves banned across the South for saying much less.) If, sometimes, he reaches too far (or simply blows it, as he does on the wildly over-simplified "Accidental Racist"), he more than makes up for it elsewhere. I can't think of a better bestselling country record in the past five years, nor one as potentially revolutionary in its implication. A milestone. Standout Song: "Southern Comfort Zone"
9. Good Family – "The Good Family Album"
Two of the most widely respected and consistently excellent bands in Canada, The Good Brothers (active since the late-1960s in one form or another) and The Sadies (often described as the best group working today), are comprised of members of two generations of the same family. While the elders have tended toward bluegrass and country-folk on their records, the youngsters have pushed these forms into thrilling electric territory, turning the Sadies into an innovative and eclectic alt-country powerhouse. Here, on their first complete record together (along with wife/mother Margaret Good, niece/cousin D'Arcy Good and pal/producer Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies) the results are as warm and refreshing as summer rain. Moving freely between ripping bluegrass ("Outside of Saskatoon"), back porch singalongs ("Paradise"), traditional country ("Life Passes," a co-write with Daniel Romano), and hybrids thereof ("Leaf in a Storm," a marvelous brand new song by D'Arcy that feels like it's always been here), the Good Family offers a bit of everything, and often all at once. What a thing to hear. Song: "Coal Black Hills"
8. Ashley Monroe – "Like A Rose"
At just nine songs and running a brisk 32 minutes, this tightly-constructed record is like a delirious one-nighter, enveloping you with its passion before running off into the night. Sparingly produced by Nashville veteran Vince Gill, Monroe's songs blend wry, subversive humour ("You Ain't Dolly," "Weed Instead of Roses"), social commentary ("Two Weeks Late," the extraordinary title track co-written with Guy Clark), and rollicking honkytonkers into a marvelously compelling whole. Fans of Monroe's pal (and Pistol Annies bandmate) Miranda Lambert will already know her voice, but newcomers will be dazzled by its gracefulness, and by Monroe's unrestrained confidence. Featuring yet another standout track co-written by Shane McAnally – the man is in many ways the story of popular country music in 2013 – "Like a Rose" is the third (along with "Same Trailer" and "12 Stories") in a trifecta of extraordinary, trailblazing country records by women looking to change the conversation. Amen to that. Song: "Like A Rose"
7. Brandy Clark – "12 Stories"
Brandy Clark, also writing with Shane McAnally, has made a record that in many ways can be described in the same words of praise as Kacey Musgraves'. But, with an album title that echoes Randy Newman's classic "12 Songs," Clark goes even further into the territory he occupied than does her younger contemporary. Playing the outspoken observer, the half-sensitive and half-arch chronicler of a certain North American way of life, Clark writes songs with an acid pen. Highlights abound, but the opening track "Pray to Jesus" may just be the very best song in this vein that I've heard in years. Balancing the bleakness of contemporary post-middle-class poverty with the futility of asking Jesus to let you win the lotto, Clark dares to suggest that even Christianity is a false panacea. A few songs later she's extolling the virtues of smoking dope to escape the pain of a housewife’s wasted life. Country music has told stories like these before, of course, but it feels like a long time since we've heard them sung with such confidence and wisdom Song: "Pray To Jesus"
6. Valarie June – "Pushin’ Against A Stone"
On her first official record, Memphis fixture Valerie June pushes at the very edges of what we might reasonably call "country" music. Swamp blues, Appalachian folk, traditional country, classic soul, and backporch gospel all rub up against each other in June's songs, while her unmistakable, reedy voice swirls around like smoke, carried aloft on Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) and Kevin Augunas' tasteful, rich co-production. It's a magical album filled with troubled songs; less a country music record than a record haunted by country music. Irresistible. Standout Song: "Tennessee Time"
5. Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison – "Cheater’s Game"
But, elsewhere, there's no justice at all. I'll never understand why Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison aren't more famous. On their respective solo records over the past 15 years they have proven, again and again, that they are masters of the form. Her voice is a rare thing, an instrument as powerfully expressive as it is unforgettable. And his songwriting – Robison penned "Travelin' Soldier" for the Dixie Chicks, and "Angry All the Time" for Tim McGraw, for instance – is exemplary. Together, this longtime married couple has fused their respective skills into a winning combination of road-tested experience and utterly fresh, radio-friendly performances. Mixing seven terrific original songs with six well-chosen covers -- Dave Alvin's "Border Radio" is a highlight among highlights -- this record is as much a celebration of the duo's influences as it is a demonstration of their powers. It is mystifying that so little attention has been directed towards this fantastic album. Let's fix that, shall we? Song: "Lifeline" (Live)
4. Kacey Musgraves – "Same Trailer, Different Park"
Breakout star Kacey Musgraves has somehow managed to square the circle that has bedeviled so many aspiring country artists these past decades. How do you write intelligent songs built around cutting social critiques and still sell more than like eleven records? Well, this is how: Find the perspective between outsider condescension and insider awareness, find the tone between satire and celebration, find the sound between urban radio pop and rural folk picking… find Kacey Musgraves and her fun, snappy, yet endlessly insightful portraits of a rural America impoverished by its own monotony, boredom, resignation. Like Randy Newman crossed with Lucinda Williams, Musgraves (and her talented co-writer Shane McAnally) finds complexity in the mundane – take the terrific album title, for starters. But what makes her rise to fame all the more astonishing is that she isn't afraid to skewer the sacred cows of her community, or of the notoriously conservative musical genre in which she writes and performs. Improbably, yet rightfully, this has made her into a star. There is some justice in pop music, after all. Song: "Merry Go 'Round"
3. Daniel Romano – "Come Cry With Me"
Over the past several years and three records, this Canadian troubadour has managed to write some of the best traditional country songs you’re likely to have heard. Channeling classic George Jones or Charlie Rich, Romano embraces this antique form as a lost art, refusing to mock its earnestness, its sincerity, its sentimentalism. Refreshingly free of irony, Romano's take on tradition (perhaps due to his outsider status as a Canadian) is reverent and clear-eyed, frozen in time. This is no update on classic country music – it really is classic country music. "Come Cry With Me" could have been released 40 years ago. And it would've been among the best country records of that year, too. Timeless. Perfect. Song: "A New Love (Can Be Found)"
2. Caitlin Rose – "The Stand-In"
The most out-and-out pleasurable record of the year, relative newcomer Caitlin Rose's "The Stand-In" offers a genre-bending mix of country, pop, and melodic rock that would be at home on a mix with Neko Case, Patsy Cline and Sheryl Crow. An impressively confident vocalist, 25-year-old Rose's punkish poise is irresistible – just try not to be carried away by her energy on barnburner pop anthem "Menagerie" or the tight twanging-rock of "Only A Clown." "There's a little darkness hiding at the corner of your eye," she teases on "Silver Sings" (a song featuring delicious throwback production straight out of Jeff Lynne's late 1980s playbook), but she could well be singing about herself. It's the subtle tinge of melancholy that imbues this record with its timelessness. Even when she's making a joyful noise, there's something there, a creeping shadow. This is, as I say, a vastly pleasurable record – but it ain't mere confection. It's deeply rewarding, thrilling stuff. Song: "Only A Clown"
1. Jason Isbell – "Southeastern"
There is, simply, no better singer-songwriter working today, in any genre. Following an apprenticeship in the Drive-By Truckers and a pair of iffy (but occasionally brilliant) solo records, Jason Isbell spent the early 2010s honing his craft, tightening his focus, sobering up, and settling into his undeniable talent for storytelling. On 2011's masterful "Here We Rest," Isbell finally arrived, a fully formed and commanding presence. But, with this year’s instant classic "Southeastern," Isbell has, rather remarkably, upped his game. Isbell has an uncanny knack for limning the contours of the southern American experience without descending into easy cliché. By no means a "traditional country" record – many of you may quibble with its inclusion here, considering its free borrowing from a range of musical traditions – Isbell has surely made an American record, an album built on the same hard luck stories, same proud rambling characters, same everyday struggles that move the music of his contemporaries in Nashville. Whatever your pleasure, this is it. The best record of 2013. Song: "Relatively Easy"
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"
6. City and Colour - "The Hurry and the Harm"
On his first solo album since the split of Alexisonfire, singer/guitarist Dallas Green kept to the realm of grave acoustic confessionals he's been releasing as City and Colour since 2005, but with a freedom to get out his innermost anxieties without concern for band fall-out. The result is portrait of an artist as an aging man, taking his first steps towards writing things not about himself (the single "Thirst"), all the while preoccupied with his own mortality ("Two Coins," "Death Song"). Melancholic Americana that successfully bridges Green's past and his future. Featured Song: "Two Coins"
5. Shad - Flying Colours
"I never thought on the day I started to write rhymes / That I might climb / And now it’s like I / Just may be Jay-Z in my lifetime." He's been a One to Watch for almost a decade now but Shad still feels on the cusp of mainstream success. Regardless, "Flying Colours" is a tour de force, a true album with layer upon layer of clever wordplay both biographical and fantastical. His seven-minute track "Progress (Part 1: American Pie, Part 2: The Future is Here)" is as biting social commentary as you'll hear anywhere this year, and exhibits a musical sophistication that puts Shad up with the best anywhere in the world. Featured Song: "Stylin" featuring Saukrates
4. Majical Cloudz - "Impersonator"
Haunting and heavy, this minimal synthpop record from Montreal duo Majical Cloudz showcases one of the country's most compelling and strongest new vocalists in Devon Welsh. The former Grimes collaborator strips down to the bone here, his intense confessionals about friendship and loss, nightmares and death supported by a warm ambient pulse. Don't be fooled by the title "Impersonator," Welsh and his emo electronica is in a league of its own. Featured Song: "Childhood's End"
3. Tegan and Sara - "Heartthrob"
It came out way back in January and has thus been overshadowed by summer smashes from south of the border, but this seventh album from the Vancouver sisters was a giant leap in their pop songwriting prowess that catapulted them onto "Glee" and the Billboard Top 5 and should be remembered as one of 2013's best. Boasting slick production and killer hooks throughout, "Heartthrob" combines the best of youthful exuberance and adult insight into affairs of the heart, positioning Tegan and Sara as go-to for both teens and grown-ups. The duo's guest appearance on stage with Macklemore for "Same Love" at Osheaga in August was also a highlight of the year's music festival season. Featured Song: "I Was A Fool"
2. Drake - "Nothing Was the Same"
There were new albums from Avril, Celine and Bublé this year, but the only Canadian music superstar to drop a truly impressive effort was Drake. Never mind the overnight line-ups to score free T-shirts promoting "Nothing was the Same" in Toronto, New York and L.A, Kayne showing up to his OVO Fest, which has become Canada's first truly get-on-a-plane-for-this summer music festival, or his new role as global ambassador for the Raptors — it's the music that makes his world domination possible. This third album is polished and accomplished, "Hold On, We're Going Home" an instant classic and "Started from the Bottom" quickly entering the pop culture lexicon, something few Canadian artists have accomplished, ever. Featured Song: "Hold On, We're Going Home" ft. Majid Jordan
1. Basia Bulat - "Tall Tall Shadow"
Canada's legacy of female folk legends is secured in Basia Bulat, who has crafted the album of the year in Tall Tall Shadow. The 29-year-old singer/songwriter wields an autoharp, piano, organ, and a honeyed, raw voice that fans of Joni Mitchell and Feist would be foolish not buy into without prejudice post haste. Recorded in a naturally reverberating old dance hall and co-produced by Mark Lawson and Tim Kinsbury (a member of Arcade Fire), Tall Tall Shadow has a grandiose, ethereal sound that oozes comfort and joy, but the songs themselves are devastatingly tragic. Basia's plaintive vocal trilling on "It Can’t Be You" will break your heart; the cheerful doo-wop handclaps of "Promise Not To Think About Love" will stitch it back up again. With pure, powerful melodies, brutally honest lyrics, but always full of much hope, "Tall Tall Shadow" is a masterwork from a woman ready for prime-time. Featured Song: "Tall Tall Shadow"
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 INDIE ALBUMS OF 2013
By Trevor Risk
10. The Dirtbombs - "Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey"
Detroit veterans The Dirtbombs decided to shine their light on '60s pop act Ohio Express and they did so with such accuracy that it almost plays like a parody album. Putting away their often-used fuzz lines and pinpointing the idea of drums functioning as hooks, this record is also on par with anything done by the Archies or Sha Na Na. Standout track: “Hot Sour Salty Sweet”
9. Connan Mockasin – "Caramel"
If you’re the kind of person who still pitches woo by making mixed tapes, go in strong by including Connan Mockasin's single off his most recent release, "I'm The Man, That Will Find You." It's smooth and romantic and just weird enough to be intriguing. The album plays like a less obtuse Ariel Pink, if Dean Learner delivered it from his talk show. If this is where psychedelic music is moving towards, start paying attention. Standout track: "I'm The Man, That Will Find You"
8. War Baby - "Jesus Horse"
Any listener will give this record an obligatory Bleach comparison, and that's fair but with EDM ruling the airwaves as well as the live industry, it's a healthy reminder to re-discover your spastic guitar roots. With frontman Jon Red's House-Of-Guitars-style of absurdist humour in their videos and social media, and a live show that makes them sell out of merchandise nightly, expect big things from this rising act in the next two years. Standout track: "Horseless Headman"
7. Louise Burns -"The Midnight Mass"
It's mildly en vogue to switch lanes from dreamy, guitar pop into a more electronic realm, but Louise Burns' second record did it with more aplomb than her contemporaries. Instead of attempting to become a radio sensation by getting hyper-billboard producers and writers on board (which we’ll call "The Liz Phair Manoeuver") Ms. Burns enlisted The Raveonettes' Sune Rose Wagner to man the controls on a darker record than one might expect from her. Also with the help of indie all-stars Sandra Vu (Dum Dum Girls), Gregg Foreman (Cat Power), Darcy Hancock (Ladyhawk), Brennan Saul (Brasstronaut), and James Younger, Louise Burns is in an indie episode of Hollywood Squares, and she's in Betty White’s seat. Standout track: "Don't Like Sunny Days” Featured song: "Emerald Shatter"
6. Yuck - "Glow And Behold"
Yuck had a mountain to climb with their follow-up to their scorching, self-titled debut and they nailed it by doing something we don't see in music that often anymore: parity. All the songs have different styles to them, instead of just trying to make a sequel to the album that got them so much attention. "Rebirth" might be the most obvious "Loveless" tribute ever made (and that's saying something), "Middle Sea" could be on any Placebo full-length, and "Nothing New" belongs on Ash's 2001 release "Free All Angels." Standout track: "Middle Sea"
5. The Ballantynes – "Liquor Store Gun Store Pawn Shop Church"
Northern soul was the original rave music. That beat can make any wallflower turn into a stomping, sweaty mess, and the fact that it's under-utilized is one of the great shames of fashionable music. Vancouver's The Ballantynes may be one of the only acts doing a straight-ahead version of this style, but they're not lazy about it. With vintage Hammonds and powerful backups vocals, they are being true to the genre and making even young fans nostalgic for a time they don't remember. Standout track: "No Love"
4. Teenanger - "Singles Don't $ell"
Toronto's Teenanger released their third full-length this year and it's made some long strides in securing them as the country's finest garage-punk act. Without falling into the trap of being a tribute to the decades-old genre, "Singles Don't $ell" has seen their songwriting go beyond what many fans thought they could, and coupled with some of the most interesting production on guitar-based music since Grinderman, Teenanger have stepped up another full plateau. Standout track: "Singles Don't $ell"
3. HAIM - "Days Are Gone"
The Haim sisters get a lot of backlash, mostly from stylish, talented, young women, in the same way that hip men in the early part of the century quickly turned on the White Stripes after they went all MTV on us. It should be noted that HAIM are definitely not a "put together" band unless you count their parents training them up from a young age to be a juggernaut live act, complete with top shelf charm and Este's now famous “bass face." Standout track: "Forever" Also see: <a href="http://youtu.be/OlN9AJkgeYk" target="_blank">David Letterman fall deeply in love with them</a>.
2. The History of Apple Pie – "Out of View"
We're living in a time of '90s revisionism with the popularity of acts like the Weeknd and Sleigh Bells being both critical stars and touring machines, and London's The History of Apple Pie are one part <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Records" target="_blank">Sarah Records</a> act and two parts <a href="http://youtu.be/VW15vdcNSSk" target="_blank">The Rentals</a>. If your soul is empty because there hasn't been a new Pains of Being Pure at Heart record in two years, fill it with "Out of View." Standout track: “Mallory”
1. Cut Copy - "Free Your Mind"
It looked a little bleak for Cut Copy recently. With the massively underwhelming release of 2011's "Zonoscope," the fact that band members were living in different hemispheres, and the somewhat boring first single off Free "Your Mind," they looked like they might sink in the same way peers MGMT and Bloc Party have. However, their latest album is rich with texture in the variety of songs, and indie-meets-deep-house production. Cut Copy is back, and this might be their best album yet. Standout track: "Meet Me In a House of Love"
BEST R&B ALBUMS OF 2013
By Ryan B. Patrick
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.