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ATP! 2013: Albums Of The Year

2013 has been an especially good year for music. From newcomers to long-established artists, independent releases to massive commercial hits, the last twelve months has been a relentless torrent of incredible albums. It hasn’t been easy trying to pick our favorites, which means the ones that made it are extra special.

So, without further ado, here are our top ten albums of 2013:

10. Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Part 1 (RCA)
Words: Emma Garland

Justin Timberlake is probably the only pop star currently active who could release an eight-minute long song to massive commercial acclaim. In a billboard chart dominated largely by repetitive beats and formulaic composition, Timberlake stands as a reminder that intelligence and complexity don’t have to be sacrificed in order to create a timeless pop masterpiece. In fact, they are essential. There’s a reason why ‘Thriller’ and ‘Purple Rain’ continue to transcend generations and ‘I Kissed A Girl’ will likely be resigned to one.

The thing about Justin Timberlake is he’s not a guilty pleasure, he’s a pop vanguard. His entire career is built on quality over quantity; since going solo in 2002, he has made four albums and each of them has reached number one in the US, the UK, or both. Even when he was co-writing N’Sync songs, he knew what he was doing. He knew music and he knew he didn’t want to churn out mechanical club bangers for commercial payback. Nor does he have to. From ‘Cry Me A River’ onwards, Timberlake has built up a sense of notoriety that gives him license to knock out albums that operate entirely outside of expectation, that do outrageous things like fuse hip-hop with retro-pop and Bhangra, that challenge his audience without alienating them.

Essentially, The 20/20 Experience Part 1 of 2 is a chart-topping album about a happy marriage, which is an incredibly rare feat, but Timberlake does his thing and he does it well. He doesn’t try to be anybody else, because, in the wise words of his potential protégé, Justin Bieber, “that’s what makes you not swaggy.”

9. Panic! At The Disco – Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! (Fueled By Ramen)
Words: Trace William Cowen

Panic! At the Disco have struggled violently with their pop culture identity since the departure of founding member (and chief lyricist) Ryan Ross in 2009, but frontman (only current member?) Brendon Urie's pop vision is finally realized on Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die.

Album standouts “This Is Gospel,” “Miss Jackson,” and >“Girls/Girls/Boys” all point to a much more cohesive and focused output than one might find on Panic's previous efforts. The scattered discipline of 2011's Vices & Virtues(the follow-up to the final Ryan Ross partnership, 2008's ill-received but admirably adventurous Pretty. Odd.) has developed into a renewed sense of self, brought home by Urie's refreshing confidence and clear comfort in a more pop-centric environment. This isn't gospel, but it's surely some remarkably rewarding theater.

8. Demi Lovato – DEMI (Hollywood)
Words: Tamsyn Wilce

Demi Lovato has had one of the strongest years to date with her musical career. After battling her demons, she worked hard to produce a pop record that can appeal to everyone, even if some hide it as their secret guilty pleasure.

The thing about Demi is that it’s not purely over-produced dance hits made to dominate the charts. It’s full of passion and though it does include the occasional up-beat anthem, it blends well with piano ballads like ‘Nightingale’ and ‘Warrior.’

Most recent single ‘Neon Lights’ is certainly a standout track from the album, and well deserving of a solo release, with a huge chorus that allows Lovato to push her voice and show off the power harbored in her vocal chords, it’s an ideal seller for the entire album.

Lovato still manages to obtain a bit of an edge, clear in ‘Heart Attack’ and ‘Fire Starter,’ without losing her girl-next-door charm, which is apparent in ‘Made In The U.S.A.’ It’s a little typical of a popstar’s album, with many of the tracks written about love and heartbreak, but the catchy hooks and variety in musical styles offer a sweet taste of pop music without it being too sickly. Plus, unlike many of her Disney alumni, she’s managed to create a career-defining album without having to strip to her undies. Nice work Demi.

7. The Maine – Forever Halloween (8123)
Words: Victoria Patneaude

Arizona-based rockers The Maine proved that it was very possible to one-up a near perfect release by, well, releasing the perfect release. Finding the ideal balance between high and low, the quintet not only gave us more of that 90s alt-rock sound they've taken on, but evolved it to the point that should you compare their first release to their last you'd probably find yourself questioning if they were truly the same band. We've said it once, and we'll say it again, Forever Halloween is quintessential The Maine material. Not only did this album turn out to be the best album in their catalogue, but it quickly became apparent that it was one of the best albums of the whole damn year. We aren't exactly sure how they're going to outdo themselves next, but we sure as hell can't wait to see.

6. Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll (Island)
Words: Gina Catalano

It’s incredible to believe that just nine months ago, the Chicago quartet known as Fall Out Boy made its way back onto the charts. Debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 and iTunes charts, Save Rock and Roll was their first record since Folie A Deux in 2009. Featuring often-unexpected guest vocals from the likes of Elton John, Courtney Love, Foxes, and Big Sean, Save Rock and Roll is a powerful comeback that solidifies Fall Out Boy as masters of the pop-rock sound.

Alongside the release came The Young Blood Chronicles: a series of music videos for each song on the album, and as if “coming back” just wasn’t enough, the band also re-released the album with an EP titled PAX AM Days, which has eight punk and hardcore influenced tracks that were co-written with singer/songwriter Ryan Adams. Basically, they haven’t slowed down since February, and it’s apparent that after a four-year hiatus, Fall Out Boy is back and ready to take over the world.

5. Cassadee Pope – Frame By Frame (Republic Nashville)
Words: Victoria Patneude

We love Cassadee Pope, there is no denying that fact, so we went into her first country album with some pretty high expectations and ever-eager ears. What we found was not only an amazing debut country/pop album, but we also feel like we heard Cassadee for the first time. With standouts such as '11,' 'I Wish I Could Break Your Heart' and 'Good Times,' the 24-year-old singer proves that not only can she fit in the country scene, she's here to conquer it.

Coupled with her tour supporting Rascal Flatts, her mini docuseries and her album peaking at number one on the Top Country Album chart, 2013 was definitely the country pop-star's year. We're just happy to know that with this sort of success, we have a lot more of Cassadee to look forward to in the future.

4. Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob (Warner Bros)
Words: Jordan Wyman

It’s crazy to look at the amazing career of the Quin sisters. It wasn’t long ago they gave Under Feet Like Ours to the world. 14-years later, Heartthrob has touched the ears and hearts of romantics everywhere.

Heartthrob isn’t just a great Tegan & Sara album; it’s a great album, period. It tells the story of thrills of a new relationship beginning with ‘Closer’ and takes the listener through the conversations, letters, and memories of the Quin sisters ending with the finger-pointing ‘Shock to Your System’ (or ‘I Run Empty’ if you got the deluxe). The record’s power-ballad foundation and 80’s-pop influence was a turn for Tegan & Sara, but all doubt was shattered as soon the play button was pressed. It’s the album you sip a glass of wine with ‘Now I’m All Messed Up’ or ride down the highway to blasting ‘Drove Me Wild.’ And if you were getting over someone, this record hit home.

Heartthrob could have been made just for the charts. It could have been made just for T&S die-hards. It could have even been made just for your mom. But after a close breakdown, it’s clear who this album was made for: you. You were the one who bought the album. You were the one who loved it. You were the one lying on your bed thinking about them, your own heartthrob. You did so much for them. You changed your plans last minute because they needed your help with something. You remembered what they wanted for Christmas and all you got in return was, “wow, thanks.” You were waiting for them in your car outside Applebee’s for three hours because they fell asleep. It was something simple, but you finally had enough of it and that’s when the words flew. You poured your heart to them and all you got was a cliché sorry with a side of “whatever”. You bent over backwards so you could make them happy. And you can still hear the dial tone from when you hung up on them that very last time.

3. Echosmith – Talking Dreams (Warner Bros)
Words: Gina Catalano

What a year for Southern California siblings Sydney, Graham, Noah and Jamie. Their band, Echosmith, released their debut album Talking Dreams just a couple months ago and made it to number three on the Billboard Heatseekers list.

Talking Dreams is, without a doubt, a strong debut album that is sure to grab everyone’s attention. With ballads like 'Surround You' and 'Bright' to catchy tunes like 'March into the Sun,' this 12-track release has a song for everyone. The beginning notes of 'Come Together' sound almost Disney-esque before exploding into a frenzee of drum lines and guitar riffs, followed by flawless vocals.

Throughout 2013, Echosmith has been playing headlining shows and managed to book their entire summer with the Vans Warped Tour. They just finished the ATP!-sponsored The Other Side Tour with Tonight Alive, The Downtown Fiction and For The Foxes, but this band is just getting started. They’ve undoubtedly been one of ATP!’s favorite bands of the year and we look forward to hearing more from this talented quartet.

2. Tonight Alive – The Other Side (Fearless)
Words: Claire Louise Sheridan

When we reviewed Tonight Alive’s The Other Side, we predicted that any referral to the five-piece as the ‘Australian Paramore’ would soon be a thing of the past. Boy (Girl?), did we get that one right. An acknowledgment that not only pigeonholes the excellent vocalist Jenna McDougall, it’s also guilty of detracting from their individual sound, with its plethora of influences from No Doubt to Fall Out Boy. Such blanket comparisons fail to recognize their journey as undisputed titans of their field – in their own right, of course. Thankfully, all that can finally be put to rest, partly in thanks to this, their third record.

Combining deep and personal lyrics with upbeat and at times ferocious beats, The Other Side is an offering, which firmly cements the band in their rightful place as worthy contenders for pop/rock champions - and we can’t wait to see what they do next.

1. Paramore - S/T (Fueled By Ramen)
Words: Emma Garland

Well, duh. How could it not be?

Starting off as the band that made music-to-slam-your-bedroom-door-to, Paramore could at one time be easily dismissed as a musical backdrop for mallrats; a female-fronted My Chemical Romance or a more aggressive Avril Lavigne. But even then, there was something that set them apart. Call it Hayley Williams' vocal prowess and general superhuman sense of awesome, the incendiary guitar lines or the fact that their albums pack more catchy “WHOA’s” than AFI, The Offspring and Misfits combined, but Paramore has written some of the greatest pop songs of the last decade and a good portion of them feature on this record.

Following the less than amicable departure of Josh and Zac Farro in 2010, Hayley Williams was burdened with the uncomfortable task of proving that the band was about more than just her. It was clear that Paramore could not continue to be Paramore and the danger of their next release being perceived as Hayley’s solo project was very real.

However, the band re-emerged as a threesome with a self-titled album that represented an altogether different band, Fifth Element haircuts and all. Comparable to Blink-182’s comeback in 2003, the bad blood that threatened to end Paramore’s career became nothing more than water under the bridge they used to go from strength to strength.

Paramore is both playful and brave in its powerful embrace of pop – an aspect which, care to admit it or not, has always been the core element of the band’s songwriting, and this shift has put them even more out of the box than they were before. Paramore defies the boundaries of it’s own commercial appeal with some unexpected moments from massive gospel choir choruses to ukulele interludes and even a few country vibes here and there. Then of course there are the unquestionably massive bangers like 'Still Into You' and 'Anklebiters.'

Dynamic but consistent, Paramore is the accomplished product of a band that has turned a corner by holding onto their alternative roots and influences with one hand and high-fiving Taylor Swift with the other.

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