Best Music of 2013

Top 50 Albums of 2013

on December 13, 2013, 12:01am
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Deafheaven-Sunbather-cover220. Deafheaven – Sunbather

If anything, the vibrant, pink album art donning Deafheaven‘s Sunbather was the first sign that this was no ordinary metal record. On their debut, Roads to Judah, the band pushed the boundaries of black metal but never exactly broke them. With the expansive Sunbather, the amount of influences crammed in makes it nearly impossible to classify. It’s a crossover record that’s equal parts post-rock, shoegaze, and black metal, spreading resonant ideas over songs often 10 minutes or longer.

Sunbather’s lyrics are deeply immersive and paired with Kerry McCoy’s beautifully ferocious guitar playing that at times channels Weakling, Slowdive, and Godspeed! You Black Emperor creates a uniquely affecting experience. The standout title track has George Clarke’s harshly bitter screams detailing a powerful image of a wealthy woman sunbathing while other tracks offer vivid renderings of class, inadequacy, and despair like the booming opener “Dream House” and the epic “Vertigo”. The songs are spaced between lush instrumentals like “Irresistible” for nearly perfect sequencing. –Josh Terry

Listen: Spotify | Rdio

Buy: Amazon

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drake nothing was19. Drake – Nothing Was the Same

Virtually all of rap’s biggest names released an album this year – Jay, Kanye, Em, 2 Chainz, J. Cole, the list goes on – but none of them had more to prove than Drake, previously a punching bag for those opposed to anything remotely emo in rap. If 2011’s Take Care was Drake drowning in compliments, then Nothing Was the Same is the sound of him making his way back to the surface on his own terms. “Worst Behavior” is menacing and colossal, “Too Much” is the emotional stunner with its wrenching refrain from London crooner Sampha, and on a handful of others, Drizzy shows out as his era’s smoothest rapper-R&B singer hybrid. He’s less concerned with the immediate past than he was on Take Care, revisiting his days as a young Wu-Tang fan in Toronto and deciding that his present might not be so tough after all. Nothing Was the Same is a toast to his success, and to success itself. –Mike Madden

Listen: Spotify | Rdio

Buy: Amazon

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Lady Lamb Ripey Pine18. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – Ripely Pine

In an era when a musician can post a track to Soundcloud and have a global tour booked days later, Aly Spaltro (aka Lady Lamb the Beekeeper) has remained remarkably patient. Ripely Pine began taking shape over four years ago in the basement of the video store where Spaltro worked, recording to a tape recorder after hours. “I’m in no rush,” Spaltro told us earlier this year. “The slow-going pace is really my way of trying for longevity because I don’t want to burn out.” It’s the precise antithesis of how music is generally done nowadays, and the results are stunning.

Almost entirely self-arranged, the tracks are a tour de force of soft-loud dynamics (“Hair to the Ferris Wheel”, “You Are the Apple”), full of earnest vocal imperfections that retain a DIY richness. Lyrically, it’s everything we privately scratched into our late-teen/early-20s journals, except with a poetic poignancy we only dreamed about (“you handled me like an infant skull/ And I cradled you like a newborn nightmare”). As much as we’d love more, these songs allow us to listen as patiently as she formed them. Here’s hoping Lady Lamb takes as much time as needed before following up this beautiful effort. –Ben Kaye

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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mikal cronin mc2 e1360075845389 Top 50 Albums of 201317. Mikal Cronin – MCII

There was a magical time in the mid-’90 when household machinery lacked proper safety devices. The laser beam stopgaps put in place to prevent children from being crushed to death were so primitive that they might as well have been ornamental. The fondest right of passage in those post-Cold War glory days was pushing the garage door button and then charging through its clamping jaws. Escaping the garage was never easy, and certainly not safe. But it paid off. The brain rewarded your apprehensive heart with a jolt of achievement tinged by genuine grief over taking such an unnecessary risk. This swirling mix of emotions is also the best way to describe Mikal Cronin’s own mad dash from the world of psychedelic garage rock toward a lush garden of power pop beauty and sublime contemplation.

Cronin – best known for his membership in the Ty Segall Band and as a modern day McCartney to Segall’s Lennon – showcases a fun collection of tracks on MCII,  his sophomore solo release, that balances wonder and awe with a profound sense of loss. Like Jimmy Eat World’s Jim Adkins before him, Cronin adds an abysmal depth to even the most lighthearted melodies. Tracks like “Weight” and “Shout It Out” display some of the best instrumental sojourns and rock choruses of the year, while “Change” features  a beautiful string section that ends with violent sawing, like a mad lumberjack tying one on. —Dan Pfleegor

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Buy: Amazon

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rplusseven1 Top 50 Albums of 201316. Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven

While other musicians simply work with computers and the Internet, none sound more as if they are coming symbiotically through that interconnected technology than Oneohtrix Point Never on R Plus Seven. The album captures the arching bursts of obtuse data and semi-comprehensible language that, when pieced altogether, produce dizzying thrills, intense paranoia, and everything in between. There are organic experiences in the machine, a human musicality guiding the way through the distressed snippets of voices, crystalline synths, and rime-crusted atmospheres.

With each Oneohtrix Point Never album, Daniel Lopatin pushes further into the void, but this time, that void is the one that we all face when we open the lid on the laptop or start up the smartphone. Though digitized, chopped, and reassembled, the wordless incantations and clanging strings of “He She” impact as a timeless religious rite. A melody attempts to reveal itself through the chilled wash of “Americans”, and “Still Life” dips in and out of the white noise deep end, calmly rising for deep breaths of air. R Plus Seven is the sound of Daniel Lopatin making his way through the Internet, assembling a mantle of meaning, language, and sound around him, and then gliding out of a speaker, putting a hand on your shoulder, and then fading back into the dark corners of data. –Adam Kivel

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Buy: Amazon

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