Best Music of 2013

Top 50 Albums of 2013

on December 13, 2013, 12:01am
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Bowie The Next Day40. David Bowie – The Next Day

From his days as the stalking Thin White Duke to the glitter-clad Ziggy Stardust, part of David Bowie’s enduring legacy has been his adaptability and ability to embrace change. The luminary godfather of glam treads new territory on The Next Day, but never skimps on the bombastic rhythms, busty harmonies, or tales of love and loneliness that defined his early records as relatable classics. The Next Day is a record that rests on its promise to think forward and delivers. As Bowie continues to draw from his lifetime of experiences as an extraordinary artist, vocalist, film cameo extraordinaire, and excellent human being, listeners are in for a set of otherworldly treats. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. –Paula Mejia

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Buy: Amazon

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earl doris39. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris

In interviews, Earl Sweatshirt comes across as the most carefree guy in the world, deadpan but perfectly affable. So when, on “Chum”, the lead single from his debut album, he begins by noting his relationship with his MIA father, we know he’s a master of inward-looking versery, too. Generally, Doris is a laid-back affair. While away at boarding school in Samoa, his rap career on hold, Earl was painted as a messiah due to his obvious smarts. There’s nothing too heroic about Doris; instead, it finds Earl tweaking various left field rap tricks (heavily processed vocals, psychedelic beats) as he embraces his inimitable cool and vague nerdom in equal measure. One of the more appealing characteristics of Odd Future is that the collective has remained true to its roots as a basement-born nonentity. Doris, in spite of its high-stakes status, is a triumph of doing things for the fun of it. –Mike Madden

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daft punk random access memories38. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Calling Random Access Memories Daft Punk’s best album is an exceedingly debatable statement, but it’s hard to question whether it belongs at the top of the duo’s catalog when it comes to pure mythos. The duo’s ambition — to return life to a lifeless genre — reeks of grandeur. “Today, electronic music is like an audio energy drink,” Thomas Bangalter lamented in a Rolling Stone interview. “Artists are overcompensating with this aggressive, energetic, hyper-stimulating music — it’s like someone shaking you. But it can’t move people on an emotional level.” And so Daft Punk set out to craft a fantastic EDM album that’s not even really EDM. It might not be their greatest work to date, but it’s certainly their grandest, as it switches from progressive (“Touch”, “Giorgio by Moroder”) to straight EDM thrills (“Motherboard”, “Contact”), never losing sight of its mission. There’s plenty of heart, and at its core, an immaculately produced display of fanboyism. –Brian Josephs

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Buy: Amazon

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James-Blake-Overgrown37. James Blake – Overgrown

After the release of his self-titled debut, Brit wunderkind James Blake was, in his own way, synonymous with the evolution of dubstep. Thankfully, Blake didn’t really care. Instead of exploiting his status as the Skrillex of post-dubstep, Blake collaborated with Brian Eno, Bon Iver, and RZA in an effort to expand his sound. And it shows on Overgrown, a smart, sexy album imbued with R&B influences (see the sultry “Retrograde”) and gospel leanings (“Digital Lion” climaxes in a sort of ecclesiastical fervor). Overgrown, winner of the 2013 Mercury Prize, is as good a follow-up as one could ask for after a smash debut. Sophomore slump this is not. –Randall Colburn

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Waxahatchee-Cerulean-Salt136. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt

Katie Crutchfield’s solo project, Waxahatchee, began with American Weekend, an understated collection of lo-fi acoustic songs after she amicably split from P.S. Eliot, an Alabama-based punk band she co-founded with her twin sister, Allison (now of Swearin’). For Cerulean Salt, Crutchfield polishes up the recording techniques and employs a full band, making astoundingly affecting songs, from the bass-driven and downbeat “Brother Bryan” to the splash of pop punk on “Coast to Coast”. Crutchfield’s music is deliberately stripped down and simple on “Blue Pt. 2” and the acoustic “Tangled Envisioning”, shining a direct light on her vulnerable vocals and open-book, confessional lyrics. Cerulean Salt acts as a relatable road map for heartbroken and broke twentysomethings, telling substance-filled tales of sleeping on apartment floors, hooking up, and toxic relationships. –Josh Terry

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janelle monae electric lady35. Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady

The Electric Lady is where experimentation and freedom — two words that feel synonymous at times — diverge. Experimentation implies a tunnel vision to forward aural progress, risking being esoteric in favor of trailblazing. Janelle Monáe isn’t trying to do that. She’s trying to make your body move, and in order to do so, she took the orchestral grandeur of The ArchAndroid and condensed it into something that’s tighter and fiercer. So, what we get is a package that’s part funk, part sensual R&B, part sass, part space opera, part earthy realness, but altogether empowering (see: the single mother ode in “Ghetto Woman”). The Electric Lady is also notable for being more accessible than its predecessor without sacrificing any of Monáe’s trademark idiosyncrasies. As she told Pitchfork, “This time, I said, ‘Let’s try it and see what happens.’ I believe in these songs even if they don’t make it on the radio, but why not try?” Her radio hit-seeking ambitions are on a whim; it’s you who doesn’t have the choice. And so you dance. –Brian Josephs

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the men new moon e1357742335587 Top 50 Albums of 201334. The Men – New Moon

The Men have become a special type of machine. They’re a vehicle on cruise control at 30 over the speed limit, with a tag team of expert drivers on board who have all been awake for way too long, as well as a mechanic who’s constantly adding upgrades one at a time. In 2013, they added keys onto their loose ‘n’ gritty garage sound, and it would “Open the Door” for them to develop a whole new Americana game for their skill set. What began as a super-charged clunker not long ago has evolved into something of a midsize truck barreling down a countryside highway at sunset; on New Moon, The Men still sound reckless and over-caffeinated (“Electric”, “Supermoon”) yet never unable to savor the scenery (“High and Lonesome”, “Bird Song”). Now, their current perfect streak of one great LP per year over four (soon, probably, to be five) straight years speaks their case as the most efficient machine, if not the best, that you’ll find in rock music today. –Steven Arroyo

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OLE-1034-Majical-Cloudz-Impersonator-537x53733. Majical Cloudz – Impersonator

The icy minimalism of Impersonator prevails in a saturated music landscape. Majical Cloudz’ Devon Welsh exhibits a commanding performance of musical restraint and impassioned poetry. His signature baritone pours out conflicted, self-conscious compositions atop skittering drum tracks both stark and grave. There’s little to hide behind. Impersonator finds Welsh in a state of unhinged self-doubt and confusion. Is he a “songwriter?” Is it “music” he writes? Can this record truly capture any real emotions, or is just an excuse to pretend? In raising all of these questions flat-out, Welsh simultaneously answers them, and makes one of the best records of “music” to emerge in sometime. And there’s nothing phony about that. –Drew Litowitz

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Pissed Jeans32. Pissed Jeans – Honeys

Pissed Jeans have never made it their business to make you feel comfortable. Even for fans of the Allentown, PA band’s work, it’s a loud, dense, punishing pill that doesn’t go down easy. So, it’s difficult not to look at a title like Honeys as some sort of smart-ass goof, and for the most part, it is. But the record’s also their most accessible and streamlined offering to date, even if only incrementally. The arrangements are tighter and slightly straightforward, and the sound’s a bit cleaner, too. But don’t mistake that fine-tuning for a concession of power. Honeys is every bit as much of a bear as anything the band’s ever done, full of the same menacing energy and apocalyptic volume that cuts through your ear canals like a buzz saw. –Ryan Bray

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Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol 331. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare, Vol. 3

Few artists can orchestrate the endless arpeggios and mazy instrumentation of saxophonist Colin Stetson. What makes New History Warfare, Vol. 3 encapsulating is its power behind a breath and entire body. We could hear his paced breathing as a creepy texture, but it’s what makes his music humane and alive. His powerful techniques defeat what a computer could possibly do, as he relies strictly on his mouthpiece to fuel distorted bell hums and fingers to crack percussive pounding. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon allows the genre to transform further with his daring vocal contributions, whether he sings with his well-known falsetto or vicious death metal croak. Yeah, we didn’t see that coming either. For that, Colin Stetson sets a high bar for what experimental music can be when the body is the dominant force. –Sam Willett

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