Best Music of 2013

Top 50 Albums of 2013

on December 13, 2013, 12:01am
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qotsa Top 50 Albums of 201330. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

It took Josh Homme dying on an operating table to record Queens of the Stone Age’s sixth album, …Like Clockwork. Even if his near-death experience isn’t readily apparent (though the LP’s stacked with references to all things death), it’s clear Homme’s not the same man from Era Vulgaris. His whole emotional outlook and worldview have changed, and he’s had to relearn how to love and appreciate music. But, even as we see new depths to Homme and Co., the band’s trademark intensity, that ability to snag you with one crunchy power cord, remains the same. That whole dynamic, of new ideas and emotions riding a wave of familiar sounds and explosiveness, immediately makes the LP a huge success both individually and canonically. Who said dying has to be all bad? –Chris Coplan

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Savages Silence Yourself29. Savages – Silence Yourself

“The noise is a constant distraction,” reads the manifesto that graces the cover of Savages‘ ferocious debut album. Few albums this year provided the visceral gut check of Silence Yourself, and no band came pre-packaged with such a concise vision. In a yelp equally indebted to Siouxsie Sioux and David Byrne, Jenny Beth delivers lines like “I took a beating tonight, and that was the best I ever had” and “I love the stretch marks on your thighs” with the intensity of a barracuda about to strike. With their sexualized take on post-punk and stone cold imagery, Savages aimed to get one sentiment across: shut up and listen, or else. –Bryant Kitching

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bluechips2cover Top 50 Albums of 201328. Action Bronson – Blue Chips 2

It’s rare for a sequel to top the original in any series, but with Blue Chips 2, Action Bronson and Party Supplies did just that, putting out a 19-track mixtape that exhibits the versatility of both artists in an ocean of obscure and entertaining samples and beats. No other album or mixtape had such a wide variety of samples all year, with Party Supplies mixing artists like Phil Collins and John Mellencamp on the same track (“Contemporary Man”) and legitimately crafting a category all his own. The Flushing rapper brings the fire over any backing track, even going a cappella for a few bars, and continues his reign over the foodie/wrestling/old school athlete name drops/copious amounts of wax smoking rap game. The album isn’t necessarily a game changer, but the two men behind it sure are. –Pat Levy

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Speedy-Ortiz-Major-Arcana27. Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana

Nervous tics, snarky revenge quips, loneliness, and demon-hunting tales all slip into Massachusetts standout Speedy Ortiz’s stunning debut, Major Arcana. Heralded for instrumentation that resembles a chugging Polvo at the heaviest and a fuzzed-out Helium in the quieter corners, the true force of this band comes from the salient lyricism and sharp perception of frontwoman and chief songwriter Sadie Dupuis, who textures her words to mimic the syllables and structure of poetry one would never expect from a girl who was once in an all-female Pavement cover band named Babement. Cheeky smiles aside, Major Arcana intensifies with each listen, with memorable songs that cling tightly in your brain with no intention of ever leaving. –Paula Mejia

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Buy: Amazon

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okkervil river the silver gymnasium Top 50 Albums of 201326. Okkervil River – The Silver Gymnasium

Okkervil River have dealt plenty with nostalgia. Virtually all of their albums have, to some degree, examined how looking back and getting lost in the pop culture of yesteryear can be dangerous. It’s an old yet true viewpoint, the idea that the past was never as good as we make it out to be. So kudos to the band for presenting a completely opposite viewpoint on The Silver Gymnasium. Set in frontman Will Sheff‘s hometown of Meriden, New Hampshire, circa 1986, the band’s seventh studio album recognizes that the past is somewhat shitty (“Show me my best memory/ It’s probably super crappy,” Sheff sings on “Pink Slips”). But it also recognizes that only when we come to terms with this shittiness can we start celebrating the good parts.

For Sheff, the good parts come from his friends (see the positive mantra of “Stay Young”), his family (see his father comforting him after a friend’s death on “Down Down the Deep River”), and nature (see the Granite State landscapes of “Where the Spirit Left Us”). Retro keyboards signify the time period, while reality gets blended with the mysticism of solid ghosts, constantly in-flux seasons, and a parallel universe that may result from a 10-year-old Sheff’s love for The Last Starfighter. There’s plenty of darkness, too, but once again, because the musicians confront this darkness, the record helps them (and others) cope with it. Many artists decried nostalgia in 2013, but Okkervil River used it to look forward. –Dan Caffrey

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Buy: Amazon

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Run-The-Jewels-Cover25. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels

Superficially, Run the Jewels’ self-titled LP is the indie rap Watch the Throne. Leaving it at that, though, is an injustice to El-P and Killer Mike’s status as a dynamic duo. Sure, both had a similar kind of hype (two big names coming together as a superpower), but RTJ built on that whole dynamic. El-P and Killer Mike were more than talented friends who worked well together; they took their friendship to the next level, combining their skill sets and achieving a pronounced sense of cohesion and interplay (i.e., El’s raps feel less abstract, while Mike gains confidence from El’s backing.) The record was more than the sum of its parts, and wouldn’t be what it was if either man tried these tunes solo. Ain’t friendship grand?! –Chris Coplan

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Phosphorescent24. Phosphorescent – Muchacho

There’s an innate, ignoble curiosity in watching someone fall apart before our eyes. On Muchacho, Matthew Houck (aka Phosphorescent) poignantly shifts the focus onto picking up the pieces. “Fix myself up, come and be with you,” muses Houck on “Muchacho’s Tune”, a song soaked in the low lights and libations of a cantina after closing, but never in self-pity. And therein lies Muchacho’s basic beauty: Houck’s revelation that he’s wounded but not broken, down but far from out. Whether recalling parting blows (“Terror in the Canyons”) or tallying life’s blessings and curses (“A Charm/A Blade”), Houck manages to find beauty and cause for celebration even at rock bottom. In the final verse of “Song for Zula” — six minutes of breathtaking tension between human frailty and fortitude — the “caged” lover mutters, “And I could kill you with my bare hands if I was free,” an animalistic, gritty sentiment that encapsulates why Muchacho belongs on year-end lists. In Houck’s hands, a record that would typically wallow instead speaks to an indomitable part of our spirit. —Matt Melis

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The Flaming Lps The Terrors23. The Flaming Lips – The Terror

The Flaming Lips burned away their unabashed optimism with what isn’t only the bleakest album in their discography, but possibly the bleakest album released by anyone this year. With the personal lives of band members in turmoil, albeit highly speculative, The Terror overwhelms with its relentless rhythms and Wayne Coyne’s repeated claim that “You Are Alone”, yet also manages to wrap its musical blanket around your cold shoulders during the beautiful “Try to Explain” and tribal “Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die”. Of course, said musical blanket is more of a tinfoil cape attached to cables that Coyne performs with on live television, proving that although The Terror is the Lips devoid of hope, they’ll never be devoid of weird. —Justin Gerber

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GROUPER-THE-MAN-WHO-DIED-IN-HIS-BOAT1-575x57522. Grouper – The Man Who Died in His Boat

Where was there to go for Grouper after A I A: Alien Observer, a near-perfect collection of ambient drone and vocal ephemerality? The answer, it seems, was backwards, as The Man Who Died in His Boat incorporates unreleased cuts from 2008’s rustic Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill. And though they’re anchored in some placid backwoods loch, the songs feel stardusted in the translucent space grime of A I A, birthing a record that, like the actual man who died in his boat, drifts through sticks and water moccasins, eyes fixed on the hazy grey firmament. Where contemporaries like Julianna Barwick and Eluvium (both of whom released excellent records this year) seek transcendence in the celestial, Grouper keeps her feet planted firmly in the dirt. And, somehow, some way, she keeps releasing music that sounds, even in 2013, like absolutely no one else. –Randall Colburn

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jaar darkside21. Darkside – Psychic

If the epithet “guitarist” is, by now, enough to make you flinch, Darkside build up a globe where no one’s ever crunched through a mutilated “Stairway” through a discount amplifier. Psychic is shelter, a space bounded by Nicolas Jaar’s translucent electronic membranes, a space where Dave Harrington can rip notes out of a fretboard and instantly turn them to water. In between taking jabs at the year’s most transparently expensive record, this budding duo unearthed a debut of original music that unravels the traditions Daft Punk paid so much to preserve. Riffs here don’t work as templates for flexing skill or ornamenting rhythm; they’re part of a complex organism that writhes and writhes until every dark corner has been filled. By resisting referentiality in favor of motion, Darkside engineer an animal that’s firmly of the moment. Hiding from the signifiers of 2013 is 2013, and here Jaar shows again that nostalgia is only noise. –Sasha Geffen

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