Words About Music
TOP 50 ALBUMS OF 2013
50. Melt-Banana “Fetch”
One of the most overlooked albums of 2013 comes from the Japanese noise rock legends known as Melt-Banana. With their most recent studio effort (and first in six years) the band continues down the path of oversaturated, overdistorted hardcore pop punk. Every inch on this album is filled with some sort of sound, be it an effect, a drum, a bass note, a guitar chord, or a squeaked vocal. It’s not an album for everyone, though. It’s noisy, chaotic, and sounds like a super sonic blast of rainbow colors, but that’s not going to appeal to everyone all the time. If you appreciate the music of Melt-Banana then you should enjoy “Fetch” which is one of their best albums and one of my favorites of this year. It’s just so much fun!
KEY TRACKS: Candy Gun, The Hive, Lie Lied Lies
49. Chelsea Wolfe “Pain Is Beauty”
Chelsea Wolfe’s music has always depicted pain in a beautiful way, and those themes go through a bit of an evolution on her fourth studio record “Pain Is Beauty.” She definitely improves on albums like “The Grime and the Glow” and “Apokalypsis” by using her voice to her complete advantage, leaving her audience eating worms out of the palm of her rotten hand. The production is great, the lyrics are great, and Chelsea’s voice leaves me in awe every time I listen to her. Check this album if you’re looking for some atmospheric dark folk music to get you through the harsh winter.
KEY TRACKS: Feral Love, We Hit A Wall, They’ll Clap When You’re Gone
48. Sky Ferreira “Night Time, My Time”
Although the debut album from the critically acclaimed yet controversial pop singer was delayed, the quality didn’t suffer. It’s an excellent collection of noisy pop songs that depicts Sky as some sort of marketable version of A Place to Bury Strangers. Some of the lyrics are a little odd (Japanese Jesus?) but overall it’s a consistent record with soaring hooks, shoegaze-y instrumentals fit for any Jesus & Mary Chain fan, and semi-introspective tributes to love both lost and desired.
KEY TRACKS: 24 Hours, I Blame Myself, I Will
47. Iceage “You’re Nothing”
KEY TRACKS: Ecstasy, Morals, You’re Nothing
46. Germ “Grief”
KEY TRACKS: Butterfly, Memorial Address, I Can See It In The Stars
45. Tim Kinsella “Tim Kinsella sings the songs of Marvin Tate by LeRoy Bach featuring Angel Olsen”
Don’t let the long album title fool you, this is by no means a pretentious or overlong album. It’s actually pretty short. Tim Kinsella, vocalist of cult acts Cap’n Jazz and Joan of Arc (among others) joins up-and-coming vocalist Angel Olsen in singing the dark poetry of Chicago poet Marvin Tate with former Wilco member LeRoy Bach providing the instrumentation. It’s a surprisingly catchy listen, but not really a happy one. If you happen to be looking for a Suicide-meets-Patti-Smith voyage into melodic post punk minimalism then you should definitely give this a listen.
KEY TRACKS: Idolize, Snowglobe, Sidetracked in Miami
44. The Dillinger Escape Plan “One Of Us Is The Killer”
One of the most consistent hard rock groups of the past ~15 years is hardcore punk/metalcore/mathcore band The Dillinger Escape Plan, whose 5th album “One Of Us Is The Killer” is one of their most mindbendingly powerful releases to date. While there are the time-signature-warping breakdowns that have been a part of their music since the beginning, there’s also more of a psychedelic Faith No More/Mr. Bungle influence. It’s also a ton of fun to listen to and features some of their more catchy and memorable songs, like the title track. Just don’t try and tap your feet along to it, because you might hurt yourself.
KEY TRACKS: Prancer, One Of Us Is The Killer, Paranoia Shields
43. Charli XCX “True Romance”
The new album from the young British singer excellently calls back 80s dance pop while also including modern butt rap production. Her aesthetic and style is certainly one that’s hard to nail down to one adjective, but I can at least tell you she’s an awesome and interesting modern pop singer. It’s a light, fluffy listen that’s as catchy as a pop record should be. If you enjoy Eurythmics, Kate Bush, and 80s synthpop and art pop in general, then you should have no qualms with this album. Also, it’s just really good.
KEY TRACKS: You (Ha Ha Ha), So Far Away, You’re The One
42. 385 “Ningen”
This album is something else, man. Shouted vocals (all in Japanese), slap bass, loud guitar/piano bits; truly one of the crazier Japanese noise rock albums I’ve heard. If you’re looking for some insane math rock a la Shellac or HELLA then you should definitely give “Ningen” a listen, because it should satisfy every craving. Also if you’re looking to fill the hole that Midori left in your heart when they broke up you should listen to this album. Even if you’re new to the Japanese experimental scene you should listen to this because it’s a ton of fun.
KEY TRACKS: Search and Destroy, Butsuyoku Society, Banzai
41. Boards of Canada “Tomorrow’s Harvest”
The ever-elusive Boards of Canada have always sounded like an apocalyptic desert landscape in the 70s. Something out of an old Alejandro Jodorowsky movie. But alas, the Scottish duo exist today, cranking out monolithic electro-jams at an alarmingly slow rate (this is only their fourth full-length album in their 25+ years of existence). The weeks leading up to the announcement for “Tomorrow’s Harvest” did provide excitement for Boards of Canada fans who craved more music, but what we all wanted to know was what the album would sound like, and it’s an excellent mish-mash of robotic IDM, ambient drones, and an overall pleasing aesthetic. Just like old times.
KEY TRACKS: Reach for the Dead, Jacquard Causeway, Split Your Infinities
40. Matana Roberts “Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile”
Free jazz saxophonist and Godspeed You! Black Emperor collaborator Matana Roberts is no stranger to the, well, strange side of jazz music. But it doesn’t get much more ambitious than her proposed twelve-album journey into her family history. She’s only two albums deep, so she has a long way to go, but 1/6 of the way through and she’s already shown more promise in the jazz world than a lot of musicians do in the modern rock world. Her songwriting is superb even when she’s not saying much, and the playing on this record is loose yet crazy. With the help of an opera vocalist she continues to tell the tale of her family history from slavery to civil rights and onward, and she does so with awesome free improvisation and tight storytelling.
KEY TRACKS: Amma Jerusalem School, Women Red Racked, Benediction
39. Drake “Nothing Was The Same”
Canadian rapper/singer Aubrey Drake Graham has always been the shining star of the YMCMB label, from his early mixtapes to his incredible albums. He combines Kanye-inspired moody R&B croons with hilarious bars that are full of wit as well as themselves. People love to hate Drake as well as call him “soft,” but people also love to pretend that “Started From The Bottom” isn’t one of the year’s best songs. Call it a guilty pleasure if you’re scared your friend will call you a dingus for liking Drake, but we all know that his music is fun, flexible, and well crafted in every possible way. His third album “Nothing Was The Same” is no exception. In fact it’s probably his best/most cohesive record to date. Check it.
KEY TRACKS: Tuscan Leather, Hold On We’re Going Home, Too Much
38. Wolf Eyes “No Answer: Lower Floors”
Whenever Michigan’s Wolf Eyes release an album, it can be safe to say that said album will be one of the most harrowing, dark, and terrifying releases of the year. Their latest in a series of countless albums, “No Answer: Lower Floors,” is no exception. While it’s more subdued than their more aggressive albums, it’s still a portrayal of classic industrial music with a modern dark ambient twist. Think Throbbing Gristle meets Autechre. This album is not a happy album, and you won’t feel very good or confident with yourself after hearing it, but it’s one you might not regret listening to. It’s almost like a personal threshold test. With its minimalism comes extremes that some can’t handle, but beyond the gimmick of noise music it is also an extremely well put together section of atmosphere that will leave you in a state of awe or a state of panic.
KEY TRACKS: Choking Flies, Chattering Lead, Warning Sign
37. Arctic Monkeys “AM”
This band has been through quite a strange ride. Their first two albums were nearly perfect in my eyes as well as the critics’ eyes. Then they went through the awkward puberty years that people didn’t dig as much immediately. Now with their fifth album, they’ve reached a sort of maturity that’s as radically different from their music of 7 years ago as can be while still retaining the darkly hilarious and catchy lyrics of Alex Turner and the smoothness of the instrumentation. “AM” is the album that Haim should have released but didn’t. It’s full of delightful hooks and weird lyrics that are to be expected from an Arctic Monkeys song, but it’s also unlike anything they’ve ever successfully achieved. It’s stripped down, radio friendly, mature, and one of the coolest records of the year. Say goodbye to The Strokes and hello to the Arctic Monkeys.
KEY TRACKS: R U Mine?, Arabella, Snap Out of It
36. Speedy Ortiz “Major Arcana”
The spirit of the 90s is alive with this one, folks. While 90s nostalgia is easily one of the most obnoxious bouts of rose-tintedness among all the internet trends, it can sometimes lead to some excellent indie rock. Bands like Speedy Ortiz feel inspired by the slacker authenticity of Superchunk, Pavement, Pixies, Archers of Loaf, and similar groups and use this attitude and angst, if you will, to create some awesome tunes. Alternative garage rock with a punk rock ethos (and a tiny bit of riot grrrl) all encompass this debut album, and those who champion the so-called 90s sound should give this a listen. It is not a gimmick and Speedy Ortiz is definitely not a nostalgia act, but the influence is strong and the music is cool.
KEY TRACKS: Tiger Tank, Cash Cab, MKVI
35. Bonjour Machines “Level Up!”
And people say that teenagers are stupid. While the world of post-hardcore and emo is usually a game for men in their 20s, teenagers have feelings too! Bonjour Machines is an Israeli trio who create excellent, instrumentally complex tunes together. The lyrics are pretty sad and a bit self-defeating for the most part, but they’re also triumphant, upbeat, and even catchy at times (“I’M NOT ASHAMED OF WHO I AM/SO DON’T MAKE ME”). It’ll have you laughing, crying, and dancing. Also, lead singer/bassist Ilai is a pretty nice dude with an eccentric vocal style not unlike that of Snowing vocalist John Galm. So if you enjoy the notorious new wave of emo, check out one of the better records that scene has produced.
KEY TRACKS: Challenger, Garden Level/Double Hills, Runs the 2000
34. Yung Lean “Unknown Death 2002”
One of the most fascinating, beautiful, and creative mixtapes to drop this year came completely out of left field from a Pokemon obsessed Arizona-drinking 16-year old from Stockholm, Sweden. Jonatan Leandoer Håstad (known professionally as Yung Lean) is taking the Internet era of hip hop to a whole new level, incorporating vaporwave and post-internet art into his aesthetic. Some see his overly emotional scene as a joke, and it may very well be, but it’s also some of the most original and thoughtful music of the year. Him and his producers (the Sadboys) are great at what they do, surprisingly enough, and Yung Lean is able to be strange without being stupid, something a lot of the so-called internet rappers have trouble with.
KEY TRACKS: Oceans 2001, Hurt, Solarflare
33. Flatbush ZOMBIES “BetterOffDEAD”
New York hip hop trio Flatbush ZOMBIES are one of the most fascinating hip hop groups of the past few years. Their main influences are marijuana, politics, and the New Age Indigo Child Third Eye stuff that seems to be a big part of the current Beast Coast movement (The Underachievers, Pro Era). If you’re looking for one of the most fun, violent, and thought-provoking mixtapes of the year then you really could look no further than “BetterOffDEAD,” which is loaded with catchy hooks about the finer things in life, as well as the less fine things in life. Come for the music, stay for Danny Brown’s singsongy verse on “Drug Parade.”
KEY TRACKS: Amerikkkan Pie, Death, Palm Trees
32. Crywank “Tomorrow Is Nearly Yesterday And Everyday Is Stupid”
British emo-folk singer James Clayton has been performing under the hilarious and often derided alias Crywank since 2009, and recently made his project a duo. Don’t listen to this project and expect to feel happy afterwards, because you won’t. The songs are painful tearjerkers that are guaranteed to make you feel some sort of strong emotion. The guitar playing is pretty skillful for a guy who taught himself and had no prior guitar experience when he started Crywank. “Tomorrow Is Nearly Yesterday” is a visceral album and one I’d recommend to anyone who’s looking to cry this winter.
KEY TRACKS: Song for a Guilty Sadist, Crywank Are Posers, I’m A Cliche
31. Young Fathers “Tape Two”
While this is one of the most criminally short releases of the year, “Tape Two” is also one of the most original. Lo-fi mysterious recordings underneath emotive vocals and slightly decipherable hip hop verses would probably be the best way to describe what is going on here. A lot of rappers nowadays are taking hip hop into exciting new places, but none of them are even close to doing what Young Fathers is doing, combining the music of Massive Attack, Fela Kuti, and Eyedea into an Afro-beat trip-hop lo-fi fusion of awesome sounds.
KEY TRACKS: I’ve Heard, Come to Life, Ebony Sky
30. Earl Sweatshirt “Doris”
2013 has been quite the year for highly anticipated records, and very few records reached the hype level that Earl Sweatshirt’s sophomore release “Doris” did. Earl made his debut at the age of 16 with his 2010 debut mixtape, but was then sent off to Samoa by his mother to endure a private school for at-risk youth. Three years and a few verses later, he makes his grand return with one of the most eerie, relaxing, and hilarious hip hop releases of the year. The production is grand, the flows are cold and eternal (it seems like he can rhyme forever), and the lyrics are thought-provoking. Don’t assume the worst about Earl because he’s one of the best rappers in the controversial Odd Future crew, and “Doris” is as much proof as you need. Did I mention he’s only 19 years old?
KEY TRACKS: Burgundy, Chum, Hoarse
29. The World Is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die “Whenever, If Ever”
The name may be long and the band may be big and their genre may be derided endlessly, but “Whenever, If Ever” is still one of the most exciting, emotional (duh), visceral albums of the year. The World Is blends atmospheric post-rock with 90s midwest emo in a way that makes them one of the more fascinating bands of the new emo revival. This record is an experience above other things, and you don’t need to be well-versed on the history of emo to understand that upon listening. It’s grandiose, beautiful, and one of the shining stars of the perpetually twinkly emo scene. So strap in.
KEY TRACKS: Heartbeat In The Rain, Low Light Assembly, Getting Sodas
28. Darkside “Psychic”
Who knew that the psychedelic rock sound would be changed so drastically this year? Darkside is the collaboration between electronic artist Nicolas Jaar and multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington, and with their full-length debut they make sounds most musicians couldn’t even conceive of. It’s a psychedelic garage rock album for the synthesizer age; something for the modern Deadheads that ran out of Phish live bootlegs and are looking for something a little fresher. “Psychic” is all that and more. It’s a strange and complex journey, but also one I’d recommend to anyone that likes music.
KEY TRACKS: Golden Arrow, Paper Trails, Metatron
27. Childish Gambino “Because the Internet”
Rapper/actor/writer/comedian/producer Childish Gambino has been everywhere the past year, and he’s caught seemingly nothing but criticism for it. He made the insane decision to leave the cult television show Community to start his own show on FX and to work on his music. While I don’t know what his TV career will be like, I can say that his music has seen a drastic artistic improvement. “Because the Internet” is a strange concept album that even comes with an even stranger screenplay, but it’s also one of the most well-produced, well-written hip hop albums of the year. It’s funny, corny, loud, serious, sad, and ambitious. It’s unlike anything Gambino’s ever attempted and no matter what the critics like to say, it’s a truly great hip hop album.
KEY TRACKS: Telegraph Ave. (“Oakland” by Lloyd), Sweatpants, No Exit
26. Altar of Plagues “Teethed Glory and Injury”
2013 has been one of the best black metal years in recent memory, controversy aside. Bands continue to branch out to numerous different genres to find elements to add to the notoriously noisy black metal vibe, and few did this as well as Ireland’s Altar of Plagues did this year. Although “Teethed Glory and Injury” is their last album (they announced their breakup only a month or so after releasing it) it’s still one of the more significant, ballsy, and emotional heavy metal releases of the year. Bandleader James Kelly expertly combined the ambient and industrial music he loves into the black metal sound, and it’s truly epic (for lack of a better word). Go into it with high expectations if you want, but just know that they’ll be met and exceeded.
KEY TRACKS: A Body Shrouded, A Remedy and a Fever, Reflection Pulse Remains
25. Queens of the Stone Age “…Like Clockwork”
In 2010, Josh Homme died. Obviously, he was revived (or else this 6th album from his band Queens of the Stone Age wouldn’t exist) but this experience changed Homme’s life, presumably for the better. He set his new sideproject supergroup Them Crooked Vultures aside and began working on “…Like Clockwork,” QOTSA’s boldest, darkest, and most adventurous record to date. He reunites the “Songs for the Deaf”-era bandmates Nick Oliveri, Dave Grohl, and Mark Lanegan and—with extra help from Elton John, Trent Reznor, and Alex Turner—crafts a sexy, sad, weird record. It’s as hard-hitting and -rocking as QOTSA have ever been, but also explores some much more depressing themes. It has to be heard to be believed, and it only gets better with age. Where do you possibly go from here?
KEY TRACKS: Keep Your Eyes Peeled, My God Is The Sun, Smooth Sailing
24. TTNG “22.214.171.124.0”
Nothing makes a music fan cringe faster than using the term “math rock.” It’s just one of the most pretentiously inaccurate genre titles in music history. Who actually uses mathematical calculations to create music (apart from Aphex Twin)? Well, none of that really matters. What matters is that a lot of bands are able to pull off this sound without making it feel masturbatory. TTNG is one of those bands. This Oxford trio has changed quite a bit since their 2008 debut “Animals.” They’ve changed their lineup, their name (it used to be This Town Needs Guns but now it’s just the acronym), and their approach to this divisive genre. “126.96.36.199.0,” their second album, works very hard to make accessible music from an inaccessible and complex genre, and does it surprisingly well.
KEY TRACKS: Cat Fantastic, I’ll Take the Minute Snake, +3 Awesomeness Repels Water
23. Stone Titan “Scratch ‘N Sniff”
If you’re the kind of person who prefers heavy metal to be as heavy as humanly possible, then I think Stone Titan is right up your alley. I can’t even use real words to describe just how entirely loud, raucous, and pummeling this record is. It’s doom metal with a sense of humor and a punk edge, something we don’t really see every day. It’s just a headache waiting to happen; the kind of thing that probably wouldn’t be appreciated by the stoners of the world. For those of you who think you can handle it, though, please go right ahead. It’s a condensed mosh pit, essentially, and more fun than any heavy metal album this year has even attempted to be.
KEY TRACKS: Groovy Warhead Commander, Faul, Scratch ‘N Sniff
22. Disclosure “Settle”
While 2013 wasn’t exactly the most exciting year for dance music (even the world’s most famous EDM duo put out a disco record) there were a few needles in the haystack, including the debut album from the British brothers that make up Disclosure. “Settle” is full of infectiously catchy songs that call back the rave scene of the 90s you always hear about in the movies. The Lawrence brothers weren’t even born when the Manchester scene began to take a turn in the late 80s, but with songs like “F For You” and “When A Fire Starts To Burn” you can’t help but think these guys were actually there.
KEY TRACKS: When A Fire Starts to Burn, F For You, White Noise
21. Vampire Weekend “Modern Vampires of the City”
Instead of trying to continue making the upbeat erudite indie pop music they’d been making pretty successfully for two albums, New York group Vampire Weekend decided to switch things up for their third, and best, album. Vocalist/songwriter Ezra Koenig spends a good portion of the album contemplating his own internal struggle with religion, class, and love in ways that are obscured by very well produced and infectious rhythms. “Modern Vampires” is much more cryptic than any of Vampire Weekend’s other music and it’s also much darker, but it’s worth all the analysis in the world. Some may find it pretentious when they hear things like “crise cardiaque” and “Dies Irae” and “Babylon” in their indie rock music, but Vampire Weekend has never been as simple as it seems. Give it a listen, and good luck.
KEY TRACKS: Diane Young, Hannah Hunt, Hudson
20. Savages “Silence Yourself”
One group absolutely took the punk world by storm this year, and their name isn’t FIDLAR. It is British pitch-black post-punk group Savages, who create atmosphere better than a lot of post-punk acts do, especially in a day and age where one group can so easily sound like a copycat of another. Savages sounds like a lot of things; they sound like if Patti Smith hi-jacked Joy Division. They sound like Kathleen Hanna and the Bad Seeds. But more importantly, they sound like one of the most refreshing punk bands in recent memory, and the fact that they’re all women is something that doesn’t even really need to be mentioned. Savages rule and they rule harder than any punk band of the year, and that’s something that defies gender.
KEY TRACKS: City’s Full, She Will, Husbands
19. Kayo Dot “Hubardo”
“Hubardo” is an easy album to hate. It’s 100 minutes of progressive rock/metal that jumps from genre to genre faster than you can say “maudlin of the Well,” and that’s not exactly the kind of thing that’s up everyone’s alley. But with their new record Kayo Dot make the most cohesive, fun, and enjoyable record of their career, and that includes anything maudlin of the Well, the acclaimed previous incarnation of the band, ever released. Death metal, folk, black metal, art rock, chamber pop; it’s all here and it’s all bound to make your head spin if you bother to give it a listen. It’s a tough album but, in my opinion, totally worth it if you’re looking for progressive rock that doesn’t sound like a circle jerk of session musicians.
KEY TRACKS: Crown-in-the-Muck, Zlida Caosogi (To Water the Earth), Passing the River
18. Oneohtrix Point Never “R Plus Seven”
Daniel Lopatin doesn’t make music you’ll wanna dance to. He makes music you’ll want to think to, or do yoga to, or relax to. Even his more sinister sounding songs have a relaxing quality to them. “R Plus Seven” is by no means sinister. In fact, it’s one of the more relaxing albums of the year, combining new age-y jungle sounds and textured ambient drones that would otherwise fade into the background if they weren’t the only thing playing. While I wouldn’t consider this his best album, it’s one of his more poignant releases, as evidenced by the tongue-in-cheek album title and slightly creepy album cover. If you’re looking to find yourself in a whole new land of imagination, close your eyes and give this a listen. You’re bound to find your spirit animal or something.
KEY TRACKS: Americans, Zebra, Chrome Country
17. Vattnet Viskar “Sky Swallower”
I’ve talked over and over again about black metal and how it changes with the seasons, but some bands are capable of sticking with the classic black metal sound and still sounding pretty excellent. American group Vattnet Viskar is one of those bands. These guys play very fast, almost to the point where they’re approaching grindcore speeds, for the sake of the classic black metal sound, but they still incorporate some fascinating new and creative sounds into their music. “Sky Swallower” is not a rehash and doesn’t exactly go too far from what a lot of bands have done already, but it’s a wicked album with tons of crescendos, screams, and blastbeats that are guaranteed to please a black metal fan.
KEY TRACKS: New Alchemy, Breath of the Almighty, Apex
16. Baths “Obsidian”
Baths is the experimental singer/songwriter project of Will Wiesenfeld, and he is known for his glitchy instrumentals, imperfect vocals, and honest songwriting. He takes that all up a notch for his sophomore release “Obsidian,” which is considerably darker and more pained than his debut “Cerulean.” On this album he deals with sexual frustration, depression, and a failed relationship, among other things. His songwriting is much more detailed here and “Obsidian” really does see Will progress as an artist. The production on here is wondrously strange while his singing style remains slightly out of tune in a sort of disorienting way. But again, be careful. This is not a happy record, even if the production suggests otherwise. I mean, he opens it up by saying “Birth was a fat black tongue / Dripping tar and dung and dye / Slowly into my shivering eyes.” Enjoy.
KEY TRACKS: Worsening, Miasma Sky, No Eyes
15. Clipping “Midcity”
Hip hop has been headed into some experimental territory recently. While I consider dälek the main pioneer of this trend, Death Grips took it into new heights in 2011, and since then it’s been anyone’s game. Shabazz Palaces, BLACKIE, and Chance the Rapper have popped up since then, while established artists like Kanye West and Childish Gambino have started cashing in on the trend. If you ask me, one of the rawest sounding experiments in this little group is Clipping. Rapper Daveed Diggs has a smooth, articulate, rapid-fire flow that is a perfect foil to the noisy, atonal, markedly non-musical “beats” that lie in the background. It’s tough to listen to at times, especially with the harsh noise explosions of “guns.up,” the incredibly dark lyrics of “story,” and the almost hilarious repetitiveness of “outro.” It’s something you’ll need to hear to believe, and hear many times afterward to understand. But it’s worth every single listen.
KEY TRACKS: loud, get.it, story
14. James Blake “Overgrown”
“Overgrown” is one of the few recent albums I’ve opted to buy a physical copy of, and that’s because it’s one of the most beautiful albums of the year. It’s also incredibly different from his self-titled debut that almost established him as the anti-Skrillex. While Blake did dabble in step both bro- and dub-, he was mostly his own genre of R&B, soul, and odd electronic music. “Overgrown” depends a little bit more on the former and less on the latter, but it’s still James Blake. He enlists the help of some higher profile musicians for this record, namely Brian Eno and RZA, but that doesn’t take away from what is Blake’s sound. Dramatic vocals, rising instrumentals, glitches, samples, layers, dubs; there’s a ton going on here. The only difference is that it’s a little friendlier than his first record. And everyone needs a friend.
KEY TRACKS: Take A Fall For Me, Retrograde, Digital Lion
13. Daft Punk “Random Access Memories”
French duo Daft Punk have been able to do a lot in their career. They’ve redefined EDM (admit it), changed pop music a bit, and have remained somewhat anonymous throughout their entire career by avoiding interviews and live performances, save a few tours. After their third album bombed critically in 2005, they took some time off to not only work on soundtracks but also completely reinvent themselves with a new sound. Instead of depending on the modulated synths and robot rock, they gave life back to their music by making a disco-funk record. “Random Access Memories” is a very ambitious, catchy, and controversial album that will have you dancing whether you like it or not. This album is much more lyrical than their others and much more eventful. If you’re looking for an excellent pop record, give “RAM” a spin. You won’t regret it.
KEY TRACKS: Lose Yourself To Dance, Doin’ It Right, Contact
12. The Drones “I See Seaweed”
Australian garage rock group The Drones are a band whose existence I had no knowledge of before this year. With the release of their new album “I See Seaweed,” though, they captured my attention and were able to hold it for the entire year. This album is incredibly heavy in the way that fellow Aussie Nick Cave’s music can be heavy. The songs aren’t very fast, but they hang in the air allowing lead singer Gareth Liddiard to do what he wants to them. His lyrics are nothing short of breathtaking, whether he’s questioning society as a whole or lamenting Laika the Russian Space-Dog. He suggests that the Holocaust’s memory does nothing but keep the History Channel on air and that we chose a nothing for a Pope, but does so in a way that is more philosophical than edgy. “I See Seaweed” is a bombastic release that is marked by incredibly strong opening and closing tracks, as well as very catchy middle tracks. So give it a listen and experience what I can only describe as wonderment at how great this album is. Because hey, who cares about what the guy from U2 says?
KEY TRACKS: I See Seaweed, Nine Eyes, Why Write A Letter That You’ll Never Send
11. Touché Amoré “Is Survived By”
Is La Dispute too wordy for you? Is Deafheaven too black metal for you? Does Glassjaw not release enough albums to satisfy your post-hardcore needs? Then boy do I have the album for you. “Is Survived By” is Touché Amoré’s third and best record, displaying heart-shattering emotion both in the instrumentation and in the vocals. The Deathwish Inc. label is a known purveyor of excellent loud rock albums and this one is no exception. While it doesn’t break a lot of new ground in the genre, it definitely brings it up a notch in terms of quality, consistency, and emotion, putting the melody in melodic hardcore. It won’t have you feeling very happy by the time its short run time has reached its end, but it’ll definitely give you some sort of catharsis. “Sunbather” may be one of the better pink albums of the year, but I know that this one is the best blue album of the year.
KEY TRACKS: To Write Content, Kerosene, Steps
10. Deafheaven “Sunbather”
One of the most critically beloved but otherwise despised albums of the year comes from San Francisco black metal/post-rock/shoegaze band Deafheaven, whose second album “Sunbather” received more praise than any other album this year according to Metacritic. And, well, there’s a good reason for that. Just listen to this album, man. It’s sonically uplifting, lyrically depressing, larger than life, and as explosive as an explosion in the sky. It’s Godspeed You! Black Metal. Joking aside, “Sunbather” is one of the most insane albums of the year. It depicts emotion in a way that makes this group much more emo than any new-wave emo band out there. Listen to it without any distractions and you’ll understand. While a lot of black metal purists call it an abomination, anyone who’s not a total elitist can hopefully see what a masterpiece this is. You don’t even need to understand the lyrics to get why this is such a great album, although I highly recommend looking up the lyrics. “‘I’m dying’/’Is it blissful?’/’It’s like a dream’/’I want to dream'” and “I am my father’s son/I am no one/I cannot love/It’s in my blood” are two of my personal favorites, but it’s all great. So you don’t need to believe the hype. Listen and believe for yourself.
KEY TRACKS: Dream House, Sunbather, The Pecan Tree
9. My Bloody Valentine “mbv”
2013 was a pretty memorable year in terms of comeback/reunion albums. At least worthwhile comeback/reunion albums. The album that set off this trend though was the first one to come this year, shoegaze-champions My Bloody Valentine’s third album (and first in 22 years) “mbv.” It could’ve been really bad, but it was a surprisingly cohesive, coherent, and forward-thinking record from the band. It starts off on a fairly straightforward shoegazing note, but eventually makes its way into friendlier dream pop/synth territories before going into an all out barrage of noise. The lyrics and song titles are as cryptic as ever and the guitars are just as mysterious. I mean seriously, how do they make those sounds? No wonder it was 20+ years in the making. The voices of Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher are still ghostly and faint, but that’s always been a part of MBV. It may not go down in history like “Loveless” did, if only because of context, but it’s definitely a worthwhile followup that could have just as easily been released in 1993.
KEY TRACKS: who sees you, in another way, wonder 2
8. Arcade Fire “Reflektor”
Particle physics. Greek mythology. Talking Heads. Disco. LCD Soundsystem. Haiti. The Clash. Death. Love. Philosophy. Suicide (both the band and the act of killing oneself). Technology. Animal Collective. Old French films. These influences and more can be found in nearly every aspect of what has become Arcade Fire’s most personal, erudite, larger-than-life record to date. Here they become much more than what they were, exploding into some sort of supernova of sound and light and dark. It’s certainly the Canadian act’s most difficult album, but could very well be their best. With production from James Murphy and a wide array of inspiration, Arcade Fire continue to craft cryptic songs in a league of their own. They dedicate two songs to the sad tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, sing a song about revealing oneself as gay, and even compare themselves to Joan of Arc in a strange, ironic way. They criticize religion while secretly hoping that an afterlife exists, and criticize our current understanding of a romantic relationship while also silently praising new technological advancement. It’s a surprisingly smart release from the band, and while it hasn’t received the overwhelming praise their first three albums received, I see it as one of the most inspired, altogether well-written albums of 2013.
KEY TRACKS: We Exist, Joan of Arc, Afterlife
7. Run the Jewels “Run the Jewels”
Who knew that hip-hop’s greatest friendship would be the same for two consecutive years? El-P and Killer Mike, two rappers/producers from radically different backgrounds in the music world, worked together on two separate but equally incredible albums last year: El-P’s “Cancer 4 Cure” which featured a guest verse from Killer Mike, and Killer Mike’s “R.A.P. Music” which was produced by El-P. This year, though, they decided to form an actual project called Run the Jewels, with both Mike and El effortlessly dropping phenomenal verses and El creating some of the most bangin’ beats of the year. The result is a 10-track free album full of hilarious rhymes, flawless production, and some enticingly energetic delivery. If you’re looking for a relatively straightforward but in no way unoriginal hip-hop album to have you bouncing around the room, then this should be at the top of your to-do list.
KEY TRACKS: Run the Jewels, Banana Clipper, Job Well Done
6. Tim Hecker “Virgins”
Canadian ambient experimentalist Tim Hecker has been making excellent, beautiful, haunting music for over 10 years and it doesn’t seem like anyone’s been paying attention. On his seventh album “Virgins,” Hecker uses live instrumentation for the first time, but it’s hard to tell he’s doing so since it’s all so layered in blissful noise. How he created it isn’t really the point, though. The point is that this 50-minute journey into unabridged ambient power was created by a mortal man when it sounds like the hypothetical biblical creation of the earth. It sounds like evolution and apocalypse at the same time. It starts on a very abrasive note and doesn’t get much easier to absorb as time goes on, but as you pay less attention to it it becomes background noise. “Virgins” is not an album you’ll get immediately, but it’s worth it once you do.
KEY TRACKS: Live Room, Virginal II, Stab Variation
5. Kanye West “Yeezus”
Further assurance that no, “Yeezus” is NOT my #1 album of the year. Still, it’s pretty excellent. With his sixth solo album, Chicago rapper Kanye West delivers stream of consciousness emotion over some of his oddest beats yet. What may come off as disjointed and stupid to some to me seems like a chronological revisiting of all of Kanye’s sounds past, present, and future. He starts out on an abrasive note with the acid-house banger “On Sight,” and gradually goes back into time until we get to “Bound 2,” a pretty friendly song about making an imperfect relationship work. Among many things, Yeezy brings up topics like racism, his status in the pop culture world, rejection, anger, love, heartbreak, depression, graphic sex, drugs, breakups, and redemption. He’s still as self-aware as ever, but he also just doesn’t care what people think of him. That’s why he drops lines like “Hurry up with my damn croissants” and “Start a fight club: Brad reputation.” It’s not Kanye at his most well spoken, maybe, but it is him at his rawest. His most emotional. “Yeezus” is id, ego, and superego living in a dark apartment, struggling to make ends meet. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of things people have always hated about Kanye (purposely dumb lyrics, autotune, samples) thrown into one melting pot of craziness. It’s… “Yeezus.”
KEY TRACKS: New Slaves, I’m In It, Blood On the Leaves
4. Death Grips “Government Plates”
Death Grips was on the verge of catching some serious flak this year before they dropped “Government Plates,” which is their most mysterious and polarizing album to date. This is their fourth full length release in three years and it came 13 months, 13 days, and 13 hours after they leaked their last album “No Love Deep Web” to the internet. They dropped it without any word beforehand and they haven’t made any comments about it since. All we have is the album and some crazy music videos that go with each song. And that’s all we need to determine that “Government Plates” is ambitious and clinically insane. MC Ride not only drops some of his darkest, most terrifying flows to date, but he also fades into the background as the album progresses, sometimes only dropping one repeated line. It’s almost comparable to an album by The Prodigy or something. It’s not as industrial and bare-boned as “No Love Deep Web” was. It’s much more production-based as well as being inspired by 90s electronic dance music as well as the current vaporwave “scene.” It’s a crazy album, without a doubt, and it may not be my favorite from Death Grips, but it’s so wildly disgustingly insane (for lack of a better word) that it’s hard for me as a Death Grips fan to not enjoy. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to have schizophrenia then you might want to give this a try.
KEY TRACKS: You might think he loves you for your money…, Two Heavens, I’m Overflow
3. Chance the Rapper “Acid Rap”
IGH! Chicago rapper Chance the Rapper released the best mixtape of the year and I don’t think it’s something anyone could have foreseen. It’s by no means your standard hip hop release. The production is bright and colorful. There are songs about love and acid in the time of darkness and molly. Chance’s voice has a slightly whiny and rather unorthodox tone that is marked by a strange ad-lib (IGH!). Let’s just say it’s strange, yet not at all unsurprising, that “Acid Rap” received such incredible praise this year. It’s such a fun, beautiful, uplifting, totally delightful mixtape. I seriously cannot stop listening to it. It’s like the anti-Yeezus in a way. The beats are totally nuts and the verses are just as weird but it all fits together. Maybe Chance is the future of mainstream hip hop! Soon we’ll all be accepting of the weirder rappers that don’t get much airplay. Whether it happens or not, 2013 has been a great year for Chance since “Acid Rap” dropped (he’s worked with James Blake and Justin Bieber) and it’s not hard to understand why once you dive into this mixtape. IGH!
KEY TRACKS: Cocoa Butter Kisses, Favorite Song, Chain Smoker
2. The Knife “Shaking The Habitual”
“Let’s talk about gender, baby. Let’s talk about you and me.” Not only is The Knife’s latest masterpiece one of the greatest and most ambitious albums of the year, it’s also one of the most poignant, important, darkly hilarious feminist statements of all time. After a seven-year break in between studio albums (except for a 2010 collaboration with some other artists), the Swedish brother-sister duo came back with a politically charged new album that deals with classism, the wealthy 1%, liberals and conservatives, feminism, gender, sex, and Swedish tax reform. It’s a very heavy album and difficult to understand on first listen, not only because of its themes but also because of its sounds and textures. First off, the thing is over an hour and a half long. Secondly, the group threw a 20-minute dark ambient track halfway through the album. Third, The Knife has never been a very easy band to listen to. While lead vocalist Karin Dreijer Andersson usually opts to sing through a pitch-shifter, she decides to sing in her normal pitch this time around for the most part, which is not appealing to a lot of people. For me, “Shaking The Habitual” is exciting, scary, incredibly well produced, and so much fun to listen to (for the most part) that the 96 minutes fly by each time. The songs’ lengths may seem daunting to the uninitiated, but it’s only half as daunting as the wealthy being offered hefty tax deductions if they hire a maid, or the disturbing exclusiveness within the concept of a Royal Family.
KEY TRACKS: Full of Fire, Without You My Life Would Be Boring, Raging Lung
1. Danny Brown “Old”
2013 was an incredible year for hip hop and music and general, but in my opinion, no album released this year topped Danny Brown’s newest release “Old.” Here he takes the Side A/Side B mood-switch formula of his 2011 album “XXX” (in which the first side was made up of party tracks and the second side was made up of serious tracks) and turns it on its head. This time he spends the first half rapping over some more relaxed beats (for the most part) and not using his signature high-pitched squawking vocal. Don’t get me wrong, lyrically speaking most of this album is incredibly serious, even if he layers the seriousness underneath ridiculous trap beats, but it’s hard not to take him seriously when he opens up with “Side A (Old)” in which he raps about his fans wanting to hear “that old Danny Brown;” you know, the one that went to jail for selling drugs. He truly outdoes himself on “Old” by not only including some fairly eclectic production, but also working with a strange cast of collaborators from Purity Ring and Charli XCX to Freddie Gibbs and A$AP Rocky. Danny Brown’s style isn’t for everyone, but his lyrical ability is undeniable, even when he’s rapping about performing oral sex on a woman. Of all the molly-rappers we’ve been forced to endure this year, Danny Brown is not only the most authentic, but he has been the most authentic for years. We don’t need that Old Danny Brown, because the New Danny Brown is just as good, just as crazy, and a million times more wise. You may not cry to this album, and it doesn’t end on a song as insane as “30” from his last album, but it’ll definitely stick with you in one way or another. At least I hope it does.
KEY TRACKS: The Return, Side B (Dope Song), Kush Coma