I felt like 2013 was an amazing year for music in terms of quantity. A lot of bands I really like released records this year, and a lot of them were great records. However, this year’s crop of records didn’t really have a clear stand-out to me. I purchased about 50 records this year(and listened to many more), and it was really tough to say which ones were my favorites. I liked a lot of them, but even when ranking them, I felt like the gap between 15 and 1 was pretty minimal. I agonized over a top choice because unlike the last 5 years or so, I didn’t have a clear #1 coming into this list. BUT, I would never let my 14 readers down. So here we go. A short and sweet look at the Top 15 Albums of 2013.
15. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Best Songs: “Giorgio by Moroder”, “Get Lucky”, “Doin’ It Right”
There’s a lot to like about this record, especially if you’re a fan of audio production. It sounds so unbelievably slick, and the techno-fuzz-freakout at the end of “Giorgio by Moroder” is probably my favorite minute of a single song this year. However, like any full Daft Punk record, it is a chore to listen to front to back and perhaps fell victim to its own hype in certain areas.
14. Lorde – Pure Heroine
Best Songs: “Buzzcut Season”, “Ribs”, “Tennis Court”
I really didn’t like “Royals” the first 30 times I heard snippets of it everywhere. Once I came to accept that was actually a pretty decent song and listened to “Tennis Court”, it was game over. It’s pretty tough to make a minimalist pop record and make it listenable for ten tracks, but goddammit if Lorde doesn’t make a solid effort here. Really, really consistent with a few standout numbers.
13. Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience, Part I
Best Songs: “Tunnel Vision”, “Don’t Hold the Wall”, “Mirrors”
Just like all of you, I wish Part 2 never existed outside of “Murder” and I wish that most of these songs were 4 minutes shorter than they are. That said, JT/Timbaland still show the magic they are capable of making together, and the songs that hit, hit real hard. “Tunnel Vision” is a song that no other artist is capable of making right now, and “Mirrors” is an all-time classic. If Justin had been a bit more lyrically motivated(half of these tracks are sloppy joe in the lyrics department), we could’ve seen something special.
12. Dinosaur Bones – Shaky Dream
Best Songs: “Spins in Circles”, “Dreamer’s Song”, “Sleepsick”
One of those damn good Canadian indie bands you hear exist but never actually listen to, Dinosaur Bones have cut their teeth touring with Tokyo Police Club, et al., and this record is a dandy. Combining all of the best parts of early 00s indie, there’s a lot of Interpol, Stills, and Radiohead influences here, but in the best way possible. Overall, it’s a little too top-heavy and might lean a bit too heavily on its influences, but “Spins in Circles” is one of my tracks of the year.
11. Kanye West – Yeezus
Best Songs: “I’m In It”, “Blood on the Leaves”, “New Slaves”
You won’t find a bigger Kanye West fan anywhere, but this album just didn’t fully do it for me. I found a ton of people either lazily loved or hated this album. It was really easy to love because it was “different”. But really, it wasn’t. Nine Inch Nails did this shit in 1997, Kanye just put drum sequencing to it and yelled over it with some dog barking noises in the background. But then again, there was some “different” to it, as he did that genius shit he always does of re-appropriating genres to assist his own sound, like the absolutely brilliant call-and-response between reggaeton destroyer Assassin and cooing-in-the-manger Justin Vernon on “I’m In It”.
It was also super easy to lazily hate it, too. “Oh, this is TOO different.” “Oh, this is unlistenable.” “Oh, this doesn’t sound like ‘All of the Lights’.” Didn’t mind the risk. Just didn’t fully get there. So I’m taking the moral high ground and lazily proclaiming this album had high points and low points. He’s already working on a follow-up that you know will destroy this, in exactly the same way he followed up 808s and Heartbreak(also an album you lazily loved or hated) with his best album ever.
10. CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe
Best Songs: “Recover”, “Tether”, “Lies”, “You Caught the Light”
This album is basically a metaphor for this entire musical year. Super consistent, no bad songs, but no tracks that absolutely jump out and grab you by the throat. Just a very solid throwback to 80s synthpop with some lovely vocal work from Lauren Mayberry and some very memorable hooks. Hard not to find something to like for every taste here.
9. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Best Songs: “Everlasting Arms”, “Hannah Hunt”, “Step”
It’s somewhat crazy how Vampire Weekend have essentially taken their core sound, which annoyed me on their first, eponymous album, morphed it into something I enjoyed but didn’t go nuts for on “Contra”, and then made this third album, which absolutely crushes. While I don’t think this was the album of the year, as many outlets did, there are some absolute gem-quality tracks here. There are still too many clunkers(what the hell is “Finger Back”, aside from a perfunctory nod to their old sound that no one wanted or needed?) for me to see this album any higher, but there are more BIG tracks on this record than almost any other this year.
8. Drake – Nothing Was the Same
Best Songs: “Hold On, We’re Going Home”, “Paris Morton Music”, “From Time”, “Too Much”
Drake’s major-label releases have been anything but consistent, and this is no exception, though it finds Drake at his most mellow and contemplative. There are still some filler tracks here, and with the great tracks being so damn great and his work ethic as well-established as it is, it’s shocking that they remain. That said, if “Hold On, We’re Going Home”, wasn’t in your top 3 tracks this year, you were doing it wrong. Even if you don’t like Drake, he is pushing the hip-hop game forward, and this record was further proof of that. Still, it was tough to ignore that some of the internet b-sides(“5 AM in Toronto”, “Jodeci Flow”, “The Motion”) were far better than some of the garbage on here(“Own It”, Wu Tang Forever”, “305 To My City”).
7. Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze
Best Songs: “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day”, “Girl Called Alex”, “Goldtone”
I didn’t expect to like this record at all. I found Kurt Vile’s previous efforts to be a bit boring and meandering, and there wasn’t enough for me to grab onto. This is the exception, and I hope it becomes the rule. Vile really expands his palette on this record, making it a far more engaging and challenging listen than past efforts. It’s one that rewards repeat listens, which you could not say about his past records. This was the summer jamzzzzzz record of 2013 for me.
6. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Best Songs: “Fireproof”, “I Need My Girl”, “Don’t Swallow the Cap”
I can remember being unbelievably excited for the release of High Violet, and the release of this record just didn’t capture the same attention from me. It’s possible that I wondered how The National would plan to cap what was a thrilling trilogy of records in “Alligator”, “Boxer”, and “High Violet”, or how they would plan to keep their sound fresh. What they did here was reach an impossibly lower note than they ever have before–and succeeded. This is the low-key answer to an already low-key catalogue, with muddled, downcast production and plucky guitars, but is an enjoyable listen all the same. I think this will be the 2013 record I most enjoy outside the year 2013, as it will probably approach me at a time where I need it most, and I will be grateful for it then.
5. Local Natives – Hummingbird
Best Songs: “Breakers”, “Heavy Feet”, “Ceilings”
Perhaps because it was released in January, perhaps because it borrowed a bit too much of its sonic landscape from their first album, this album didn’t find its way onto many year-end lists at all, but I, for one, really loved it. I spent a lot of time with this record this year, and it was one I found myself coming back to often. While it may have a lot in common with their first record, I think this album finds the band getting a little funkier and groovier in spots, and Local Natives know how to work with what they’ve got. An album with no skippable tracks and a few absolute buzzsaws, hopefully Local Natives will continue to build on their sound with their next effort.
4. The Weeknd – Kiss Land
Best Songs: “Kiss Land”, “Professional”, “Belong To the World”
The Weeknd is an idiot. But he knows how to write a beat and sing a hook, and sometimes, that’s all you need. The production value of this record is absolutely devastating, if only he could stay away from lyrics that at best could be described as light misogyny, and at worst, are downright embarrassing, he could be the next absolutely massive thing. In fact, he probably is already, which speaks volumes to his natural talent. Because these lyrics are seriously brutal. Just do what I do, and make up your own. Far more satisfying.
3. Volcano Choir – Repave
Best Songs: “Comrade”, “Byegone”, “Dancepack”
It’s funny that I’d rather hear Justin Vernon sing nonsensically about “sexing up your Parliaments” and “smoking outside the Computel” than to hear Abel Tesfaye sing lyrics that make sense but are horribly constructed, but here we are. If Justin Vernon wants to take more bands he idolized growing up in Wisconsin and work with them, I’m all for it, because this record is tremendous. This album is absolutely MASSIVE in sound, an absolute treasure to listen to for contemplative moments and moments where you just want to rock out. It’s a record that actually doesn’t take itself too seriously(a bit of a shift for Vernon), and is the better for it.
2. Pusha T – My Name is My Name
Best Songs: “Numbers on the Boards”, “Nosetalgia”, “Sweet Serenade”
Ever since Malice retired from hip-hop, it sorta seemed that Pusha wasn’t all that motivated. He had a few killer guest spots, but a few horribly lazy ones, his mixtape output was inconsistent, and you just had to wonder how his sneer would sound on a full, proper album, without the grounding that Malice’s tone gave to it. With this record, we got our answer. Beats that recall the early days of Clipse’s door-banging, minimalist sound, Pusha destroys damn near every one of them, having guests on the record seemingly so he can punish them. Kendrick Lamar is the only one who keeps up, with a swift turn on “Nosetalgia”, but the rest of this record is Pusha’s show. Possibly my favorite hip-hop album since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
1. HAIM – Days Are Gone
Best Songs: “Forever”, “Go Slow”, “Days Are Gone”
I almost hate myself for picking this #1, but quite simply, there wasn’t another record this year I listened to half as much as this one. I might hate it in a year simply due to my own overplaying of it, but I have no choice other than to slot it here, atop my list in 2013. It’s a slice of pop perfection, as these three girls(and they’re girls! Ages 21, 23, and 25. I mean, get real!) manage to combine a 2013 pop sensibility with a firm grasp of Fleetwood Mac and the Bangles/Go-Gos into something that just sounds so delicious I can’t deny how much I love it.
There’s some smarts here beyond just the pure, candied thrill of the songs. Tracks like the slow-creeping “My Song 5” and the delightfully-harmonized “Running If You Call My Name” switch the pace up, holding the listener right through the album. There are virtually no missteps here. Each track seems to offer a different take on a pop standard, and it’s all produced so perfectly, it’s an absolute cracker of a debut album.
And seriously, I’ll probably hate it so hard in 2014.
Albums Perilously Close to Making the Cut, in no order:
Charli XCX: True Romance
James Blake: Overgrown
Mikal Cronin: MCII
Toro y Moi: Anything in Return
Songs I Enjoyed from 2013 that didn’t make this list:
A$AP Rocky: 1Train
A$AP Rocky: Wild For the Night
Autre Ne Veut: Play
Charli XCX: So Far Away
Charli XCX: You’re the One
City and Colour: Of Space and Time
James Blake: Retrograde
Jasper Sloan Yip: Horseshoe
Jasper Sloan Yip: Cut Your Teeth
Jay-Z: Tom Ford
Justin Timberlake: Murder
Kings of Leon: Supersoaker
Mikal Cronin: Shout It Out
Mutual Benefit: Advanced Falconry
Palms: Future Warrior
Phoenix: SOS in Bel-Air
Phoenix: Chloroform(if some rapper doesn’t take the last 45 seconds of this song and turn it into a crushing beat I’ll be devastated)
Phosphorescent: Song for Zula
Phosphorescent: The Quotidian Beasts
Rhye: The Fall
Toro y Moi: So Many Details
Torres: November Baby
Torres: Honey and I
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Sacrilege
Youth Lagoon: Mute
I still don’t get Arcade Fire.