Doesn’t end-of-year-list time always sneak up on us? It’s the time to reflect and realize that a lot of really great music did come out throughout the year. Here is my list of 50 best records that came out in 2013. I limited it to albums that were physically released. But it’s only the end of November, so feel free to leave a comment and tell me why I’m dumb for leaving out such-and-such record and I’ll give it a listen!
Just ’cause these guys ripped off the Madchester sound isn’t any reason to write them off. Listen to Howlin’ and try to get these songs out of your head.
Non-verbal cries echo out into infinity and give life to your unconscious while listening to Nepenthe. She’s like our generation’s Enya, only a million times cooler (actually Enya is kind of rad, nm).
48. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time
What if Kelly Clarkson really dug My Bloody Valentine and dated the dude form Diiv? What if Taylor Swift shot up heroin, posed nude for some crazy German director and actually ended up making interesting music? Night Time, My Time seeks to answer these questions you never knew you had. Even though Night Time, My Time couldn’t possibly live up to all the blog hype/hate/press Sky Ferreira got this year, it’s still a great, if fragmented pop record.
On part 1 of The 20/20 Experience, Justin Timberlake allows himself to grow up while still delivering the goods in terms of pure entertainment value.
So they're kind of like a Guitar Center kids band grown up. Despite a heap of sheen, Days Are Gone's hooks and personality are undeniable.
Massive shoegaze guitars, pop beats and melodies, and breathy, intertwining vocals. Hey Jasamine White-Gluz and Laura Lloyd, why don’t you just take everything I love and make an album out of it?
It’s all older material here, but these reworkings of previously released Zola Jesus songs do away with the noise and reverb, add an avant-garde string quartet and unleash austere beauty. Watch Zola Jesus' "What's In My Bag?" episode below.
This year, Mikal Cronin stepped out from the shadows of his collaborator Ty Segall with his own brilliant album, a collection of expertly crafted power-pop designed to be sung along to at maximum volume.
Fuck Buttons’ electronic jams flow like molten lava over your ears. Check out the hip-hop flavored “The Red Wing” for something different from the band.
El-P and Killer Mike both released excellent albums last year. This year they were just having a lot of fun as Run the Jewels, and oops they did it again, releasing a set of 10 too-much-fun jammers capped off with the now-appropriate “A Christmas Fucking Miracle.” Look for part two next year!
A gorgeous set of songs to set your mind and spirit free, the ambient house act’s best since From Here We Go Sublime.
For my money, this is better and more progressive than their acclaimed My Maudlin Career. A little lighter, jauntier and more synth-heavy than their previous indie-pop work, Desire Lines is a refined work that shows the band maturing in a way reminiscent of Roxy Music’s settling into adulthood on Avalon.
On the double-length Big Wheel and Others, Cass McCombs makes a mature pop album that makes entering adulthood feel bearable. Plus, it has a great tribute to the late actress Karen Black, on the duet "Brighter!" Read my interview with McCombs here.
Depending on who you talk to, “Ya Hey” is an innovative pop song or super annoying. Regardless, the rest of Modern Vampires of the City trades in pristinely constructed, classically minded pop music that retains some of their afropop touches and collegiate atmosphere while trying to do something more.
Neko Case has always been pretty untouchable—perfect voice, literary lyrics and tasteful, country-tinged instrumentation. Her latest album is one of her best in that her guard is totally down, exposing a beautifully ruminating and observational heart.
UMO nail psychedelia with thorny arrangements that get stuck in your hair. This time, they even managed to sneak in an instant classic soul-pop song, “So Good at Being in Trouble.”
I didn’t think it was possible for Iceage to sound more brutal, but that’s just what they did on their follow-up to the amazing New Brigade, a swirl of Misfits-inspired punk chords, shredded vocals, hardcore drums and shoegazey touches.
Chelsea Wolfe uses house beats, dirty guitars and gothy atmosphere to counterbalance the evocative beauty of her voice across Pain is Beauty. However, it’s also brilliant to hear her go for it with a full-on piano power ballad, the moving “The Waves Have Come.” Read my interview with Wolfe here, and watch her "What's In My Bag?" episode below.
Though Blood Orange’s excellent, recently released Cupid Deluxe is more of a critical fave, his work with Solange Knowles on the True EP is also top-notch. With just a handful of songs, together they leave an indelible print of lyrical heartbreak, nostalgic R&B sounds and forward-thinking production.
Liz Harris makes music that exists in its own world, unspooling wonders slowly from a tape deck. Her ambient folk comes into focus with some of her strongest songs on The Man Who Died in His Boat.
In one of the most-welcome reunions in years, Mazzy Star recapture their early morose magic on Seasons of Your Day.
Like falling asleep while ’70s sci-fi and nature documentary soundtracks fill your dreams. It took eight years to yield Tomorrow’s Harvest, but it’s a gloriously dense, full listen.
On their best album yet, Sonny & the Sunsets take us to the astral plane and back with catchy-as-hell interstellar garage-rock tunes. Read my interview with Sonny Smith here, and watch their Amoeba performance below.
Just about the best traditional hip-hop album you’ll hear all year (Drake and Kanye are too weird to count), with jam after jam (“Goldie,” “PMW,” “F**kin Problems”) and brilliant guest spots from Kendrick Lamar, Santigold and Schoolboy Q, among others.
Crystalline guitars, glistening melodies and some throbbing industrial beats make Jinx one of the best dream pop releases of the year.
A fascinatingly frustrated album that makes wallowing in darkness incredibly appealing. “Whoa,” “Chum” and “Hive” are some of the coolest hip-hop tracks of the year.
Though it may seem like eons ago, it has been mere months since hype catapulted (and nearly buried) indie R&B duo AlunaGeorge. Give Body Music a spin and hear what got the press drooling in the first place. See their performance at Amoeba below.
Drake gets meaner and more personal while delivering some of his best ever singles, including the deservedly ubiquitous "Hold On, We're Going Home."
While this album technically was released last year, only this year did it see a physical release—and last year, Death Grips' dissolving relationship with Epic, this album' hard-on album cover and the fact that The Money Store was released the same year all tended to overshadow the music on No Love Deep Web. Though they've gone and leaked another album, don't forget about the minimalist fury of this one.
Easily the year's best dance album. Just try not to move while listening to Settle—banger after banger pulverize any resistance until you're basically shaking and sweating.
Sexy, paranoid, futuristic R&B from the coolest new kid on the block, L.A.’s Kelela, who knocks it out of the park on her debut mixtape with some production help from the likes of Nguzunguzu, Bok Bok, Girl Unit and a host of other L.A. underground artists.
The grimy Monomania leaves you feeling a bit as though you need to take a shower, smearing backwoods noise all over their garage-rock cuts, but underneath the din are some beautiful songs. Watch frontman Bradford Cox's "What's In My Bag?" episode below.
Spacious guitarwork and black metal vocals live harmoniously on this beautifully aggressive record.
Several artists made more original albums than Veronica Falls’ jangle-pop record Waiting for Something to Happen, but show me any that were as consistent or tuneful. Watch Veronica Falls' Amoeba performance below.
15. After Dark 2
His best album yet. Wakin on a Pretty Daze is plenty stonery, but the riffs, melodies and atmospheric touches cut deep. Makes you want to quit your job and play guitar all day.
Holter loosens up her academic garb on Loud City Song for a brilliant song-cycle partially inspired by the musical film Gigi. Read my interview with Holter here.
Trevor Powers’ second album as Youth Lagoon is an enormously accomplished psychedelic pop record, harkening to Syd Barret’s time in Pink Floyd and The Flaming Lips at their most melodic, but Powers creates a private wonderland of his own. Wondrous Bughouse feels like just a peek.
The year’s best indie pop record, a miraculously great throwback to the time when The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan were everyone’s top influences that somehow works by infusing those tired sounds with an infectious yeah whatever attitude. Hopefully they stay together and make another record!
An album you wrap yourself in, Rhye’s Woman comes off as effortless, yet its melding of quiet storm, Sade-inspired sultriness and modern, post-Radiohead, post-Stereolab production is a hard sell on paper until you hear how fucking good it sounds.
The skinny jean-wearing, 32-year-old Danny Brown cuts a decidedly different figure in hip-hop, but his outsider appeal goes further than skin-deep. The double-length Old has it all—successful indie crossovers (“25 Bucks,” with Purity Ring, and the Radiohead-ish “Gremlins”), evocative tales of urban dread (“Wonderbread”) and enjoyable forays into modern trends (the EDM bangers “Dubstep” and “Dip” are basically irresistible). Immensely addictive.
One dumb thing the Internet does is overhype bands and then create a “backlash” around those bands. Don’t listen to any of it. Listen to Silence Yourself for the first time or revisit it, and you’ll find it’s aged better than blogger boys on laptops will tell you, defining post-punk energy for a new generation.
Building off of the enormous promise of her debut record, The Electric Lady is both lush and hyperkinetic, keeping her futuristic soul aesthetic intact while landing on some enormously appealing singles (“Primetime,” with Miguel, is one of the best songs of the year).
An incredibly solid album, one that holds your interest throughout its long running time with the welcome addition of vintage dance beats they simultaneously explore and lambast. Reflektor is a conflicted listen, one that aims to please while offering social and musical observation, but it’s never less than engrossing.
Dense, full of dark, foreboding atmosphere, heart and heat. Drifters/Love is the Devil is an unsettling, yet completely immersive listen, creating an evocative world from looping rockabilly riffs, gritted-teeth vocals and found sounds.
Simply an electro-pop record. Yet The Bones of What You Believe had the best reaching-for-the-heavens pop hooks of any other record this year. Every song seems to pack some emotional punch or surprise that leaves you reeling.
A big, open-armed hug of a record, giving us disco jammers, nostalgic hits, both real and imagined, and slower, pensive pieces that tie the whole thing together. Some didn’t get immediately on board with this, but it’s just a long record—give it a few more listens and you’ll be in love.
It’s not the hip-hop opus that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was; it’s something different (from that or anything else, for that matter), and it’s equally as great. An industrial, punishing listen that ultimately leads to high rewards, it’s as close to art as pop music got in 2013.
Three things: It was worth the wait, as My Bloody Valentine continue to shock and amaze on their first full-length album in 22 years; It’s brilliantly composed, moving from a noise-pop first third to a gorgeous, lulling middle and finally to an epically destructive conclusion; and even if its doesn’t fully live up to impossible expectations, it’s still the best, most innovative and fascinating release of the year. MBV4EVA.
These are records that just barely missed my list—either I’m still digesting them, they were just off the mark or I’m an idiot and I’ll be lamenting not putting them on my list forever. Regardless, these are all great records you should also check out:
A puzzling, troublesome and too-long listen, but its standout moments warrant The Knife’s harsh excess.
Yes! An awesome return to form. I’ll have to dock it a few points for not doing anything too new and starting out flashy and then fading out a bit. But! This is still a great Sigur Ros album.
This finds The National coming out of their dad-rock coma. Now if only they could get Wilco to do the same!
A great dude-folk record.
Just like the funnest band around. They sound like the ideas you had for a band in high school totally realized.
Who doesn’t love a good curmudgeon? Wolf faded from memory a bit, but it’s as strong as anything Tyler has done.
Not only is he ridiculously hot, he also makes super cool trucker-noir electro-country music.
Very 2013 time-capsule-worthy pop, like Icona Pop, who are also great.
I’m still figuring this one out. I wish the songs were a little catchier, but the production’s dazzling enough to make it a great listen.
Very cool stuff. It’s so dark that I’m a little bit afraid of it, like I was of Nine Inch Nails when I was 12.
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