2013 has been an absolute monster year for music: countless reunions, comebacks, surprises, a few letdowns, band beefs, new bands, and great music overall. The top albums I have this year aren’t real surprises to anyone who knows me. I’m pretty vocal about the music I dig. However there are some albums in here that surprised me on how much I liked them.
As for trends, there’s a metal leaning album in the Top 10, which is the first time that’s happened. There’s only four hip-hop albums on this list, which I feel is lower than the past two years. It’s pretty balanced with everything else. One album in there will be a surprise for those who actually personally know the artist, which I know there will be at least one person. Other than that, no real surprises, mostly all pretty well known releases on pretty well known indie labels.
If you’re not familiar with the album, you can click the album title and listen to a song! Hope you enjoy!
50. Grouper – The Man Who Died In His Boat
49. Blank Banshee – Blank Banshee1
48. Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana
47. Joanna Gruesome – Weird Sister
46. Fuzz – Fuzz
45. Russian Circles – Memorial
44. Kelela – Cut 4 Me
43. Infinity Shred – Sanctuary
42. Young Fathers – Tape Two
41. Laura Cortese – Into the Dark
40. Alunageorge – Body Music
39. Ty Segall – Sleeper
38. Sam Amidon – Bright Sunny South
37. Cut Copy – Free Your Mind
36. Majical Cloudz – Impersonator
35. Postiljonen – Skyer
34. Kurt Vile – Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze
33. Machinedrum – Vapor City
32. King Krule – 6 Feet Beneath the Moon
31. Deerhunter – Monomania
30. Merchandise – Totale Nite
29. Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire – Kismet
28. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Pt. 3: To See More Light
27. Bombino – Nomad
26. Crystal Antlers – Nothing Is Real
25. Ovlov – Am
This band absolutely rules. 90s-sounding shoegaze/punk band from Newtown, CT totally slay on their first release for an (eventually huge) label, Exploding in Sound. Washes of intense guitars, great solos, and a nice variety of styles – it doesn’t totally just tune out and shred. It gets in your face too, which is fun. Look out for this band in 2014.
24. Death Grips – Government Plates
Real talk: this is probably my least favorite Death Grips release. But it’s still ranking this high in my list of music from an extraordinary year. I love the emphasis on Flatlander’s electronics in this release, and all the vocal manipulations of Ride makes for some really interesting effects on the beat. “Birds” is probably my all-time least favorite DG song, but with songs like “Two Heavens,” “Whatever I Want,” and “Feels Like A Wheel,” this thing redeems itself. Also it was a surprise, which is fun.
23. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Other than Random Access Memories, MBV, Tomorrow’s Harvest, Yeezus… okay there were a lot of super hyped about records that came out this year. But I guess that’s the cycle now. Album releases are now turning into two types of hype scenarios: the long-build hype scenario, where little details are teased through social media over time, allowing the pressure to build and carry the release on to massive sales upon release. This is seen in the Daft Punk and Arcade Fire release. Then there’s the short-build hype scenario, where the album and all details associated are announced or dropped without previous notice, creating massive amounts of hype ripples in the internet ocean for about a week or two, then it dies down after the mavens have moved on. This describes the Death Grips and Beyoncé records. They both work, but the former is definitely more annoying and risky. With more pressure put on the album through hype, there is a greater potential for error and the album buckling under expectations.
Thankfully, the newest Arcade Fire album didn’t buckle under all my expectations, but it does quite well. I haven’t listened to it as much as I thought I was prior to learning about its existence, but I’ve still enjoyed it quite a bit. James Murphy’s glitzy production shines, which is killer, and some of the songs like “Porno,” “Here Comes the Night Time” and “Afterlife” are definite stars in the indie darlings’ catalog. Perhaps their next album will be a surprise, that’d be really cool.
22. Grave Babies – Crusher
Skuzzy, fuzzy, crusty, dark post punk/goth rock that sounds like it’s been sitting in a dump for about ten years, in a good way. The mixes on this bleed into eachother because of how lo-fi it is and everything sounds so gross and compressed… it’s a really cool effect and made this record stand out throughout the year for me.
21. Pity Sex – Feast of Love
Wonderful pop punk influenced shoegaze that achieves a small but admirable trait, which is that great balance of guitar wash to vocal volume. Sometimes records mix the vocals too high or too low when there’s a ton of noise, but this record rules. Hooky melodies, swooning guitar lines, great vocals… an all around great record from an Ann Arbor based band.
20. Anamanaguchi – Endless Fantasy
This record is a bit long, but holy hell does it pack it all in. Chiptune power pop outfit Anamanaguchi really kill it with this album. I usually can’t get through the whole thing when listening, but there are so many good songs with catchy lines and party-ready choruses that it makes me forget about the length and allows me to let go of my worries and dig in to the candy-coated, sugary goodness.
19. James Blake – Overgrown
Not really sure what to say about this one. It’s James Blake: smooth, sexy, jazzy, moody, electronic goodness. He sure has evolved since his debut of CMYK in 2010, but I’m okay with that. Also the song with RZA is really fun to listen to; probably his strongest performance of recent times. Also, this cover is a parody but it’s clearly the best one made.
18. Mikal Cronin – Mcii
Ty Segall’s partner in crime showed that he too can craft some sweet, summer ballads of his own this year. This record came out the perfect time for me: school had just ended for the summer, I had just moved into a new apartment with no AC, I was just starting my job as Music Director at WHUS, I could only bike places, and I was pretty much all alone on campus, save for my roommate and occasional friend that would visit. It was just a brilliant, fun, summery record that really got me in the mood to have fun on my own for the summer, and those feelings continue still after listening to it now.
17. Julia Holter – Loud City Song
It’s the pairing of delicate vocals and dreamy instrumentation that makes this album truly beautiful. There’s also more than one dimension to this dreaminess. There’s the straight up hazy bliss of “Maxim’s I” and “Hello Stranger” as well as the dream-like scenarios created in “Horns Surrounding Me” and “This Is A True Heart” that play out like an idealized movie scene. The whole album is gorgeous and hazy, much like the cover. Holter is now three for three with great releases in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Let’s make it four for four next year!
16. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels
Let’s see here: I loved Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music from last year as well as El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure. El-P produced Killer Mike’s album and Mike guested on a track on El-P’s. They’re pretty much best friends and all they do is party and make music, so what else would they do? Make a free album that embodies the spirit of their partying friendship, just for kicks. It puts together the great parts of both of their releases from last year into a small yet bangin’ package, along with having great guest appearances by Big Boi and Until The Ribbon Breaks. Overall, it’s great that such a chemistry transferred over so well on the record, let’s hope this friendship only blossoms more from here.
15. Iceage – You’re Nothing
There’s nothing like the energy of teen angst and when you put it into the hands of punks, there will be some bombastic results. Now in this case it’s some Danish punks, but I think there is the potential for more angst from teens in Denmark, as seen here with Iceage’s brutal sophomore album You’re Nothing. It’s fast, loud, loose, heavy, and bunches more organized than their first, great album. There’s also the song “Morals,” which is the closest thing the band has done to a ballad, and it’s amazing.
14. Chelsea Wolfe – Pain Is Beauty
Imagine a coffin sitting in a crypt somewhere in New England in a mass cemetery, cause there are a lot of those up here. You open the coffin only to find a set of stairs, leading down into the underworld, where the demons and forgotten spirits have their fun. The first half of this blackened husk of an album is pretty similar to that: it’s pretty synth/electronic based and doesn’t get into too much heavy material. Until “Sick,” where the lead character in this made up story is killed, and the rest of the album is the gruesome trek through the afterlife. That’s just my interpretation. It’s gorged on dread and sickness, and Wolfe’s breathtaking vocals are the beacon of blackness in this gothic tale. The instrumentals are grandiose, having the ability to swallow the listener whole throughout the album. Wolfe has created her finest work yet.
13. Disclosure – Settle
Pretty awful cover aside, this record gets the award for “Most Listened to While I Was in the Shower Award of 2013.” People call it a deep house record, but it’s more like a house/deep-house influenced pop record, due to the vocal qualities of the guest singers. I’m so into that. These two brothers are pretty much my age and it astounds me that they have the ability to distill their influences and their muses into this cohesive record so well. I can barely write a term paper and these dudes are crafting records that rock dancefloors across the world. They dip into the archives of Detroit techno and Chicago house, the basements of New York City and clubs of Europe, before whipping them all up into ultra-accessible pop tunes that even your grandma could enjoy. Next time you take a shower, play this album. Specifically the song “Defeated No More,” and your morning/night will be that more special.
12. Fear of Men – Early Fragments
For Fear of Men, simplicity is key. I’m guessing not a lot of other toplists for this year will have this overlooked twee-leaning record up so high, but it really struck a chord within me throughout the year. First off, the vocals are wonderful and sweet, perfect for this style of music. The words that this pretty voice are singing are complex and philosophical at times, which is great. I dunno, there’s something about totally unoffensive indie rock that don’t totally reinvent the wheel but do such a fantastic job driving said wheel. Get into this record.
11. Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
Two emotional powerhouses on eachothers borders in this Top 2013 list. There’s the one end of the spectrum, Deafheaven’s throttling embrace of strength and on the other side is this one- Julianna Barwick’s wistful and dreamy excursion into the deep unknown. Barwick’s music has always entranced me in ways that other ambient artists have not, and this album definitely added more depth to my hypnotized disposition. If I were to compare her works to others, it would probably be parts of Sigur Ros songs, which is appropriate since she toured with them and Jonsi guests on some tracks. The loops of her vocals spin clouds out of dreams and lets emotion shower down onto the listener like a celestial blessing. The music sounds like it’d be at home in a church setting, only devoid of the religious context. The fact that this mostly-wordless music is able to fill up hearts and souls with so much emotion is completely worth noticing.
10. Deafheaven – Sunbather
This record makes the fire burn strong in my heart. This record makes me want to climb the mountains of my doubt and douse the spirits of my insecurities. This record is the strength to propel millions who are under the influence of their lesser selves to come out and create something better. This record is not a favorite of my girlfriend’s. The combo of shoegaze, black metal, death metal, screamo, and post rock is so well executed that I can’t think of another album that is this hardcore and has united most of the musical community in garnering critical acclaim. This is something that blurs boundaries and looks damn good doing it. A triumph of a record for sure.
9. Beach Fossils – Clash the Truth
Like the Fear of Men record, sometimes simplicity is the key. This is the case for the new Beach Fossils record, Clash the Truth. I liked their music a decent bit before this, but this record really sparked an affinity for them in me. It’s a quick, dreamy record of jangly rock tunes that sounds like many other records from the past few years, but something about this thing made it so special. Perhaps it was the variations on the traditional dreamy vibe, incorporating some more shoegaze elements in on some songs, bringing in guest vocals in Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead, making the vocals overall more perceptible or just making catchy as fuck songs. It’s like an entire album of “Doused” by Diiv.
8. The Flaming Lips – The Terror
The fact that these old dudes are making music that’s dripping with so much creativity floors me. This album is probably the spiritual opposite of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, but it shares the traits that make a record a hit: the fact that the Flaming Lips are at the helm of the creative process. This thing is gorged of dread and loneliness, starved of human interaction, and is tragically beautiful. Wayne Coyne posting uncomfortable pictures on Instagram and Twitter is okay by me when he’s putting stuff out like this.
7. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Like seriously though? I thought I was gonna hate this record. I thought that Vampire Weekend was a band of my high school existence and couldn’t possibly carry over to my totally matured college self. Nah mane, I was totally wrong about that one. There is no way people can refuse songs that are this catchy, not even my stupid self. Heck, Rolling Stone gave it their Top album spot. That means some fifty year old burn out man is gonna listen to this thing and love it, as well as a fourteen year old kid with the Led Zeppelin posters will fall in love with it as well. The tin whistle on “Unbelievers” will be the soundtrack to them cutting their unwashed hair, putting their “RUSH TOUR 1980” back into their closet, and going outside to experience the world.
So yeah this record is really good.
6. My Bloody Valentine – MBV
Comeback of the year? Comeback of the longtime? Something like that. I feel as though the blue on the cover symbolizes the blue balls people were experiencing for the 22 years that MBV was being made. After years of teasing and torture, this finally arrived and… well, in my book, exceeded expectations. The riffs are tight, there’s a plane sample, there’s a poppy song that my girlfriend can get into, but most of all it sounds like a My Bloody Valentine record. After years of impersonations of mbv, we finally get the actual product and it made my year 22 times better.
5. Tim Hecker – Virgins
I love walking around on campus listening to music, just because if I don’t, the whole journey to my next class is quiet and I’m forced to stare at the oncoming populace of the largest state school in New England, which is always a chore. Don’t call me pretentious, because if you came here you’d understand. Through listening to music in headphones, I’m able to separate myself from the masses and exist in an alternate plane of reality wherein rules are arbitrary and only the complex rhythms and melodies can guide my mental routes. When listening to albums like Virgins, my mental maps are soundtracked by such methodical, precise noise that sounds like nothing else, allowing me to live in the world that only Tim Hecker creates. It’s a fantastic ambient record that is dreaming as well as intense, just like other Hecker records.
4. Jai Paul – Jai Paul
Although this isn’t an official release, it’s ranking this high in my Top 50 list. For the past two years, I’ve had a Jai Paul song in my Top 10 songs of the year, and for good reason. They’re freaky, glowing RnB tracks with a distinct production quality on them that allows them to stick out among the other PBRnB acts that are coming out these days. This thing grooves all over the place, with its manic instrumentals that jump all over the place and Paul’s falsetto crooning away, this thing rules. Also Drake liked BTSTU so much that he sampled it in 2011. But who cares, that’s just Drake. Jai Paul is where it’s at and he had better put out something for real soon.
3. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
2013 was the year of Boards of Canada for me. I never really listened to them too much before this year, but after really getting into their 2002 release Geogaddi, they developed into one of my all time favorites. I even like Campfire Headphase, to a degree. I know some people were disillusioned with this album, saying it didn’t pack as much of a punch as Music Has the Right to Children or Geogaddi, but I feel as though this one lives up to that level of greatness. There are the retro synths, the spooky samples sounding like old videos shown in science classes, and tons of ominous textures floating around that would feel right at home in the kaleidoscopic world of Geogaddi. Like the return of My Bloody Valentine, I’m just glad the band put out a record that sounds like no other group could have made it.
2. The Knife – Shaking the Habitual
This record would be filed under the “surprise” portion of what came out in 2013. Even though I knew that The Knife were going to release an album this year, I had no idea it was going to be one of this scale. This is a double album, complete with a 20-minute ambient drone centerpiece, multiple tracks going over the nine-minute mark, lyrical themes on gender roles and sexual archetypes, instrumentation ranging from zithers to industrial style synths and of course the over the top live show that accompanied the album. This thing is basically a monster that is not only made to make you move, it’s made to make you think. It takes the heat of the dancefloor with the heat of the fires in activists hearts. It’s a celebration and a protest. It’s the most unique sounding yet extremely accessible album I’ve heard all year. It’s gonna be interesting to see what The Knife does to follow this up.
1. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
I’m not sure if there was any competition for my number one spot this year. Before I even listened to this I had a feeling it was going to be my number one. I’ve been listening to Daft Punk since my senior year of high school, which was only about two to three years ago from this post. I’ve loved Homework, Discovery (Human After All maybe not) and their live albums an equal amount. They just know how to make a really, really good song. All the hype leading up to the album was a bit unnecessary, with the artist interviews teasing the concepts of the album, along with songs coming out in ten-second pieces. This could have hyped this thing up a bit too much, and it might have with some people. I was a bit worried that might happen with me, but woah. This thing is so damn good. So many grooves and so little time for me to process them all in my non-robot brain.
So many killer guest appearances. Nile Rodgers on guitar was a slick move, because that man might be from another planet judging from the way he plays his guitar. Panda Bear on vocals was brilliant, Julian Casablancas surely made Strokes fanboys jump out of their skin with happiness, Giorgio Moroder talking about his life story was nothing short of a revelation, Paul Williams singing on Touch was the most unexpected yet welcomed part of the album with all that musical-sounding business on there, Chilly Gonzales and Todd Edwards were great additions… but then Pharrel! I wouldn’t have had him sing on two different tracks. He’s great on “Get Lucky,” but on “Lose Yourself to Dance” I would have liked a more dynamic singer rather than the Neptunes/N.E.R.D. singer-rapper. I’m addressing its faults while still bringing up its highlights. It’s like a term paper or something.
Overall, Random Access Memories was my clear winner from the start. The robots know how to make a classic pop song, and those who scoff at this record by saying that they sold out or didn’t cater to your Homework era needs need to chill out. Like many other records on here, it sounds like no other band could have made this album. It’s quintessential Daft Punk and I’m really glad it was able to narrate most of my 2013.