It has been an amazing year for music, with the return of Beyonce, Justin Timberlake and David Bowie all up against Jay Z, One Direction and Robbie Williams. Here, Shereen Low rounds up her favourite albums of 2013
:: ARCADE FIRE - REFLEKTOR
On their fourth album, Canadian rockers Arcade Fire redefined their musical template, thanks to LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, who handles most of the production duties. Over the course of two discs and more than 70 minutes of music, Murphy's magic touch is evident, with throbbing beats and a hint of Giorgio Moroder-style disco pervading the best songs. This album benefits from repeated listens as it gradually reveals its charms, including the laconic cameo vocal on the title track from David Bowie. Awash with electronic influences, the songwriting and production in Reflektor are as fresh and contemporary as can be. With songs as impressive as Flashbulb Eyes, Here Comes The Night Time and Afterlife, this is one of the year's standout releases.
:: ARCTIC MONKEYS - AM
The Arctic Monkey's fifth album opens with the singles Do I Wanna Know? and R U Mine? and thanks to Alex Turner's rhyming couplets and Yorkshire-via-Los Angeles twang, Matt Helders's heroic drumming and Jamie Cook's riffing, AM really couldn't be by anybody else. From the sinister, late-night feel of songs like Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High? and Knee Socks, to the Lennon-esque influence - snarling, sarcastic and pleading - that hangs over much of the rest of the album, AM is an astounding achievement, and perhaps their best album yet.
:: BEYONCE - BEYONCE
This secret self-titled release from Queen Bee Beyonce has already become the fastest ever seller on iTunes, with more than 800,000 downloads in its first three days. Her fifth record, which came two years after 2011's 4, was released as a total bombshell with no pre-publicity. It includes 14 songs, 17 videos, and collaborations with husband Jay Z, Drake and Frank Ocean, as well as an appearance from daughter Blue Ivy on the closing track Blue. With tunes such as Drunk In Love (featuring Jay Z), Mine (with Drake) and Blow (with Pharrell Williams on writing and production duties), Beyonce's latest album is definitely high on the list of 2013's contenders.
:: DAFT PUNK - RANDOM ACCESS MEMORIES
Much has been made of the secrecy surrounding Random Access Memories. French electronic pair Daft Punk - Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo - made the long-awaited follow-up to 2005's Human After All under complete wraps, their record label was not even permitted to announce early news about the album's release. But away from the media hype and speculation, the music on RAM remains the most dazzling thing. Get Lucky is a wonderful, virtually unsurpassable slice of slick disco, but such is the quality of the rest of the album, it doesn't overshadow anything. The rest of the album heads forwards at a blistering pace and, for the most part, it is absolute brilliance.
:: DAVID BOWIE - THE NEXT DAY
David Bowie's 25th album is like much of his greatest work in that it's impossible to separate it from the story behind its creation. If he's become a character, as he did with his Ziggy Stardust and The Thin White Duke personas, the 66-year-old is now a wise grandfather reflecting on his past. Each of The Next Day's 14 songs feels like a love letter to a different part of his career. The Next Day is a rock album - it's loud, frantic and fun. With Earl Slick's guitar providing the grunt, Bowie's voice, sounding better than anyone thought possible, provides the grace. It's been a decade since Bowie released an album, and most thought he'd retired for good. The Next Day is the best comeback of all time.
:: EMINEM - THE MARSHALL MATHERS LP 2
It's taken over a decade for Eminem to unveil the follow-up to his Marshall Mathers LP, but it's worth the wait. Described as a "revisit" to the vibes and nostalgia of his bestselling 2000 album, this 16-track release is a vitriolic return to form for the 41-year-old. The 8 Mile star battles his Slim Shady alter-ego on the seven-minute-long opening track Bad Guy, and six-minute closer Evil Twin is a pointed attack on his persona. The controversial lyrics Eminem is known for remain, wrapped in sarcastic wit, rapid-fire rhymes and aggressive beats, as he takes a pop at Jay Z, Kanye West, Justin Bieber and more. Stand-outs include the number one hit The Monster with Rihanna, the Stan-influenced Legacy and Love Game featuring Kendrick Lamar. A brilliant listen.
:: HAIM - DAYS ARE GONE
HAIM - aka sisters Este, Danielle and Alana Haim - took their time with their debut, pushing the release date back three times, but when it finally arrived it was easy to see why they wanted things to be perfect. Much had been made of Destiny's Child as an influence and although not impossible to hear, it's more an attitude than a sound. In truth they owe more to late-period Fleetwood Mac and American soft rock than anything else. As the title suggests, Days Are Gone is like a love letter to their childhood and kissing their old life goodbye. What lies ahead of them is undoubtedly more exciting.
:: JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE - THE 20/20 EXPERIENCE
JT fans were given a real treat this year when, after a seven-year hiatus, they had not just one new album, but two. After years of deflection and speculation, The 20/20 Experience, which was co-written by Timberlake and producing partner Timbaland, was a huge surprise when it was released in two parts: the first in March, with the second part following in September. Instant hits such as Mirrors, Suit And Tie and Take Back The Night featured on the tracklist. The album, which comes seven years after 2006's FutureSex/LoveSounds, flowed rhythmically from one track to the other, was one of the biggest musical comebacks of the year and sees the 32-year-old truly fulfil his musical vision.
:: LONDON GRAMMAR - IF YOU WAIT
After the success of their collaboration with UK dance darlings Disclosure on surprise chart-topper Settle, ambient trio London Grammar unleashed their own album-of-the-year contender. Although not quite as minimalist in their approach as The xx, comparisons can still be drawn. Hannah Reid's brooding vocals, reminiscent of Florence Welch, belie her youth, adding a haunting, ethereal beauty to Dan Rothman and Dot Major's well-crafted music. If You Wait is compelling from start to finish, with the title track bringing a superb debut to a passionate and emotional close.
:: RUDIMENTAL - HOME
Hackney quartet Rudimental - Piers Agget, Kesi Dryden, Amir Amor and DJ Locksmith - can toast a brilliant year where they topped the charts with their debut album and two singles, and enjoyed both Brit and MTV nominations. Coming from beyond the underground, they've produced music that sounds old-school yet very 2013, with drum 'n' bass loops and horns aplenty. Breakthrough single Feel The Love, with its worldly-wise vocal from John Newman, is indicative of the feel of this album, with tracks like Powerless reminiscent of Massive Attack at their most haunting. Rhythmically cohesive with a lot of heart and soul, Home is undoubtedly one of the biggest musical successes of the year.