Top 50 Albums of 2013

50. Party Supplies – Tough Love

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Turns out this NYC duo doesn’t just make beats for Action Bronson. No one can argue that electro-pop is all the rage nowadays, so for Party Supplies to step in and join the fray might seem risky at first. But the glorious discovery of Tough Love is these guys might be competent and capable of almost anything. One listen to “Beautiful Girl” and you’ll be converted to Party Supplies’ new sound fairly easily.

49. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time

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After creating one of the finest tracks of 2012 in “Everything Is Embarrassing,” this songstress returns with the self-aware stepsister to the Haim sisters. In what is a brutally honest, aggressively infectious pop record, Sky reminds us that the finest pop music doesn’t live and die on shallow decadence, but rather introspection.

48. Superchunk – I Hate Music

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God bless Superchunk and their loud rock and roll that I hope they make forever. As the band matures, so do their songs about loneliness, empowering love, and rocking the fuck out. From the blink-and-miss-it relentlessness of “Staying Home” to the endearing “What Can We Do,” this is a punk band for the ages.

47. Janelle Monae – Electric Lady

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Further placing herself amongst the greats, the unusual, and more than just the female Andre 3000, Monae delivers a track-fest of funk, R&B, and futuristic boogie that continues the story of her unworldly alter-ego. There’s craft here, no doubt, but not without that trademark Janelle style and flair we’ve all come to love. This is what a perfectionist sounds like. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

46. Diarrhea Planet – I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams

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Probably the most unfortunately named band in the world is pretty fantastic at channeling a nice mix of early influences and creating a new brand of undeniably fresh garage rock. For a genre looking for a hammer-to-the-head wake up call, this band is here to kindly scream, if their name is any indication, a hearty “fuck you.”

45. Swearin’ – Surfing Strange

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2013 had its share of bands looking back at the alternative glory days of the 90’s and unleashing a fury of nostalgic flannel demons upon all of us. Some were inspired, others weren’t. Swearin’ thankfully went above and beyond all that derivation and created something for all us lost twentysomethings of the 2010s – a call to a fond recent past, a realization of pressing uncertainty, and a modern step towards something new and exciting.

44. Big Black Delta – S/T

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The criminally overlooked post-Mellowdrone project of Jonathan Bates continues its weary, spacey trek into the unknown, gathering up bits of synth pop, loud industrial rock, and brilliant experimentation. All at once scary, beautiful, catchy, and challenging, there’s no clear way to describe the whole of this album. You’ll just have to dive in.

43. Rhye – Woman

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The theme of love is one exhausted by modern music, but the duo of Rhye take minimal construction to focus on something as simple as the feeling itself. Ultimately the conclusion is that love is maybe the riskiest thing you can ever feel, but in the end, it might be the most wonderful thing you ever feel. The same can be said of the creation of Rhye’s Woman, and it undoubtedly pays in dividends.

42. My Bloody Valentine – MBV

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Like I said, we were all jonesin’ for some old indie rock flavor in 2013. But the best thing about the return of My Bloody Valentine was simply that MBV wasn’t Loveless Part 2. If anything, it was the exact opposite of a one-note nostalgia trip for Gen X. It was a clear, modernized bridge for millennials and their older siblings. After years of waiting, MBV brought the goods, and they were far from expired.

41. Danny Brown – Old

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When an artist “crosses over” from the underground to the mainstream, we usually get a messy, candy-coated album that has hit singles and no focus. Danny Brown, in true Danny Brown fashion, flips the bird to that notion, and handles his emergence into a brighter spotlight as a chance to deliver a magnum opus of precision, narrative, dexterity, and big-ass rap hooks.

40. London Grammar – If You Wait

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The group behind those soaring vocals on the final track on Disclosure’s new album stunned the ears of those who were paying attention. Combining the subtle elements of our ever-present modern genre of electronic music with pure emotion, the result of If You Wait is a wave of exhilaration. And yet, with this young trio, it’s assured the best is yet to come.

39. Arctic Monkeys – AM

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Don’t call it a comeback, but it might have felt like Arctic Monkeys weren’t around for a while. After a wave of under-appreciated efforts, AM is what the group was building toward, a magnum opus of proper rock that stands out in an age of technological crutches. It’s easily their finest since their instant-classic debut. Don’t sleep on it.

38. Surfer Blood – Pythons

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While not as sharp and quite a bit more polished, Surfer Blood still have delivered a fine sophomore answer to the hard-to-top Astro Coast. The Floridians come very close, producing memorable growth into the band’s easy-going catalogue of surf-flavored indie rock. The hooks are as incessant as the waves.

37. Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork

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I’d never thought I’d say this, but man, these guys sound bleaker than ever, don’t they? In a wonderful way, of course. Queens hearken back to the band’s glory days of their first three albums without sounding like a time machine; what we get is a fine pastiche of trademark Homme and Co., with all the swagger, sadness, and audacity you can handle.

36. Sam Amidon – Bright Sunny South

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All at once beautiful, challenging, and compelling, Sam Amidon blends experimentation, classical, and folk, transforming Mariah Carey and Tim McGraw into somber pleas and sunny odes. From waves of noise to whispered declarations, from old Gospel standards to warped pop melodies, from start to finish, Bright Sunny South is an absolute treasure.

35. The Strokes – Comedown Machine

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While few are in the Angles camp, it’s a bit shocking to me the amount of people lumping this album in with the band’s previous disappointment. Where Angles stumbled, Comedown Machine stands tall. The odd sounds are perfected here, as Julian Casablancas regains control of the Strokes songwriting machine and steers this iconic band back on course.

34. James Blake – Overgrown

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This young exciting English songwriter continues his unique take on modern soul and subtle electronic backdrop. So many feelings are prevalent here that it may be hard not to get lost in Blake’s emotional space. A cascade of sounds and cries engulf the eardrums; this one is certainly challenging, but worth every repeated listen.

33. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

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While a bit too long, how could one complain about what was ultimately inevitable: a double-album from the most epic band of the past decade? Butler and the Crew, or the Reflektors, as they’ve been known as nowadays, recruit the genius that is James Murphy for…. a fucking dance record from Arcade Fire?! Conceptually, it’s interesting; in practice, it’s completely masterful.

32. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II

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Building upon the weird and focusing on the melodic, UMO has come into their own and given us easily one of the best albums of the year, a marvelous compilation of everything you knew you loved about them, and some new things to love as well. I can’t even tell you how many times I played air drums to “One At a Time” in 2013.

31. Local Natives – Hummingbird

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The critically-acclaimed LA group returned this year with a fantastic follow-up, reminding us of the strength of the core sound of Local Natives, while maturing in songwriting structures. This one requires a bit more patience, and is not as immediate as Gorilla Manor, but the effect is absolutely rewarding.

30. Toro y Moi – Anything In Return

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Quite possibly his most dancey, accessible effort to date, Chaz Bundick has come a long way from his chillwave-era Causers of This, incorporating funk, hip-hop, disco, and house along the way. Here, his unique approach truly shines from start to finish, and while there isn’t much standing out compared to previous albums, the whole thing is quite a fun ride. I’d say listen to it in one sitting, but it’s quite possible you’ll be dancing.

29. A$AP Rocky – LONG.LIVE.A$AP

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After a long wait, we were finally gifted with this beast of a proper debut LP from the finest of the A$AP crew – hard to believe this came out in 2013 considering how many times I’ve heard “Fuckin’ Problems.” There are some star-studded collabs here, to be sure, but the real highlight is the young Rocky, a rapper who appreciates fine craft in his hedonistic, purp-infused jams on top of progressive production built for his introspective dread. This kid’s got the goods.

28. Flume – S/T

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It takes a lot for a DJ/producer to stand out nowadays, especially with a debut album, a medium usually praised for its underlying concept, its coherence. Flume says fuck all that noise, he just wants people to dance. And do they ever; this self-titled blaster is an inventive, creative collage, yes, but you’ll hardly have time to notice working up a sweat.

27. Bleached – Ride Your Heart

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Best Coast and Dum Dum Girls haven’t exactly been turning heads lately, but I don’t think it’s safe to say people are tired of wishing they all could be California girls. Case in point: Ride Your Heart, an album chock-full of new, infectious twists on an old sound. From “Dead In Your Head” to “Next Stop,” there isn’t a dud here. And like California should be, they make it sound so easy.

26. Wavves – Afraid of Heights

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On the flip side of that California coin is Nathan Williams, a guy with a penchant for turning surf punk on its head for the past five years. Unfortunately, this recent effort was ridiculously overlooked. He’s certainly come a long way from the backyard-band antics and lo-fi overload, and while the buzz is still there, in place of self-declared boredom and apathy is a chaotic swirl of ambitious rock’n’roll.

25. Daniel Markham – Ruined My Life

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I’ve already told you all about Ruined My Life here, and by now, especially if you read Dallas-based music publications, you’ve probably heard about it from other people, too. While Markham’s output has always been steadily, incrementally excellent, it’s really FUCKING AWESOME to see all that hard work paying off and Markham getting some love from actual music critics. And it’s nice to see Ruined My Life on a year-end list other than this one. About. Damn. Time.

24. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

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Funny how quickly this went from the most hyped album of the year to the most head-scratching album of the year. Those expecting Discovery Part 2, as if “Get Lucky” didn’t throw them off that assumption, might have been disappointed. But months removed, RAM is kind of fascinating, in a Daft Punk-y, flashy, expensive, sort of way. I mean, who else could round up their influences, have them play the sounds they invented, and still make it all sound from the future?

23. Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap

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By far the most interesting new rap artist of 2013, Chance hails from the streets of Chicago, a place he wants to heal one real-life, anxiety-ridden anecdote at a time. Don’t let his age, or the Woody Woodpecker flow, fool you, this kid has been around. And Acid Rap, a sendup to his home and the ongoing inner city struggles it faces, released entirely for free on the Web, is his venue to vent, all the way to becoming the next big hip-hop superstar.

22. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

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Right next to the Walkmen, the National are one of the few modern bands who have yet to release a disappointing album in a prolonged tenure. Trouble Will Find Me is more of the same from this absolutely charming, breathtakingly talented band. I always love getting on Metacritic and reading a slew of reviews that say almost nothing of substance, but the feeling of awe is ever-present nonetheless. Call it The National Effect.

21. Run the Jewels – S/T

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Forget the throne, Killer Mike and El-P are the dynamic hip-hop duo to shout about. This album hits hard, but there’s no grandstanding, heavy-handedness, or flashy production. These are just straight bangers from two of the finest lyricists of our times, tossing the mic back and forth until we get dizzy. They’re sharp, they’re relentless, they’re violent, they’re funny. They should make this a regular thing.

20. HAIM – Days Are Gone

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Seemingly out of nowhere, but in retrospect to no one’s surprise, Haim are maybe the biggest new acts out of the indie pop world in 2013. And one listen to the undeniable catchiness of tracks like “Forever,” “Falling,” and my favorite, “The Wire,” it’s pretty much obvious these SoCal sisters were made for the big time.

19. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

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Pulling a Jay Z and making that whole retirement thing a sham, Trent Reznor brought back his favorite creation, but not just to make more of the same. Channeling elements of the Cure, New Order, Bauhaus, and proto-industrial sources, Reznor chose to creep and crawl rather than scream and shout, and the result is one of the most exciting, unique releases of his already-brilliant career.

18. FIDLAR – S/T

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Loud, drunk, and rowdy, you’ll get the idea pretty quick. From the barroom shouting of “I! Drink! Cheap! Beer! So! What! Fuck! You!” to an ode about their friend Max who gets too stoned to learn how to surf, FIDLAR is all fun, and if you aren’t, kindly go fuck yourself. What else do you expect from a band whose acronym literally stands for, “Fuck It Dawg, Life’s a Risk”?

17. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt

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Recorded primarily in her parents’ house, the isolation you feel from Katie Crutchfield’s second album is all too real, and her take on experiences we’ve all been through are a minimal, vulnerable journey. Her stories will compel you to cheer on protagonists that are likely also in their twenties, living life to a beautiful soundtrack that hints at Liz Phair, the Breeders, and Kimya Dawson all at once.

16. Phoenix – Bankrupt!

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Riding the coattails of a fantastic hit album isn’t always bad; in fact, in Phoenix’s case, it’s quite good. It can’t really be argued, between the nuances, that Bankrupt! isn’t more of the same, but when you’re writing jams like “Entertainment” and getting R. Kelly to croon on your remix, no one’s complaining.

15. The Thermals – Desperate Ground

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Portland’s finest have always tackled heady subjects and concepts on their pristine punk albums, from religion to death to culture. This time, it’s war. And like a battleground, the Thermals amp up the echo, crank up the dirt, and sound a bit more urgent than they have been in recent memory. “Born to Kill” hearkens back to the glory days of “Hardly Art,” and that’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.

14. Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana

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It’s fuzzy, it’s noisy, it’s got pop that twists into minor key destruction, it’s got itches of L7 and Sonic Youth. It’s got stories of adolescence and coming of age. It’s got strange rhythms and brutal guitars. It’s got tongue twisters that become the hooks of the songs. It’s got riffs that battle alongside vocal melodies. It’s so great to listen to at full volume. It’s beautiful and ear-splitting all at once, and I’m so glad it’s likely the first album of many.

13. Icona Pop – This Is….

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They cannot be outdone with one runaway hit – Icona Pop absolutely deliver exactly what “I Love It” promised. This Is….contains an unstoppable fury of house and pop and music of our times delivered in the smartest, funnest way possible. There’s always one diamond in the radio rough, and Icona Pop shine through in this proper debut.

12. Bad Religion – True North

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Time will tell if True North stands out among the pack of late-era Bad Religion efforts, but I’m placing my bets that it’s a prize horse. Easily one of their finest releases of the past decade, True North is fast, furious, politically and personally charged (and produced), and finds the band getting that sweet fix of prime-time, 80’s Bad Religion. A true standout in an immense catalogue.

11. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

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If the quirk of their first, Paul Simon-aping album bothered you, man oh man have these guys grown up. It’s safe to come out now, because if Contra hinted at what was to come, Modern Vampires is the prep school graduation. Pop the champagne. Ezra Koeing and Co. have concocted a marvelous addition to their near-flawless repertoire, an album that completely represents the times we live in, just as that first CD-R did back in 2008.

10. Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold

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I can neither confirm nor deny Socrates died in the “fucking gutter,” but I guarantee you Light Up Gold is nuts. A knock-down, stoned-out-of-your-mind dirty rock affair brought to you by what sounds like the most blissfully apathetic people in the world. If you’re not tearing up your living room by the time the first three tracks on this album conclude, you’re just not doing it right, man. You think you’ll have a more fun half-hour all year? For-geht about it….

9. Joanna Gruesome – Weird Sister

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I’ve been pretty vocal about my hatred for Joanna Newsom’s music, so of course this band earns my “Best Band Name of 2013” prize easily. Beyond that, their debut Weird Sister completely shreds. Cymbal crashing, guitar-screeching, distorted post-punk led by the soaring, calming, juxtaposed vocals of Miss Alanna McArdle. Destroy your speakers with this one.

8. Kanye West – Yeezus

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Look, if you don’t like Kanye West or what he’s all about, whatever that is exactly, then you will not like Yeezus. For the rest of you: How does one follow up the most creatively audacious, bombastic, Yeezy album of them all? By giving us the Yeezy we never knew – the stripped-down, cacophonous, Rick Rubin-shadowed, furious, God-complex Yeezy. Clocking in at around thirty minutes, Yeezus feels like an F5 tornado throwing operable machinery from every possible angle while someone shouts from a podium through the world’s loudest megaphone. Needless to say, this album isn’t for everyone. You know…. softies.

7. Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Part 1

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Though I’m not necessarily in the crowd that thought Part 2 was so bad it made this one not as good – which is ridiculous – there’s no argument here that JT should have let this one be, for legacy purposes. Fortunately, Part 1 is great enough to stand the test of time. Reviving Timbaland from the dead, Justin returns oh so mightily, still swooning, still sexy, still delivering 8-minute jams with 4-minute interludes, still dropping bombs of goodness pop radio was begging for. You’re welcome, 2013. The Motherlover returns.

6. CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe

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Like Purity Ring before them, CHVRCHES has found inspiration in the Knife and added a bit more accessible flavor to the ingredients. But this time around, it’s all complete sweetness. This is very of-the-times, with progressive electronic production, theatrical performance, and melodic catharsis. Where sweeping cinematic grandiosity of M83 and brilliantly textured electronica of the Knife meet, you’ll find this Scottish band, daring everyone in the crowd not to sing along.

5. Wallpaper – Ricky Reed Is Real

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Feel special. You’ve stumbled upon the only year-end list with this underrated gem on it. And at #5! The reasoning is simple: Wallpaper has perfected the formula of tongue-in-cheek, club-ready hedonism and accidentally made the best party album of 2013. This one’s for people who treat their weekends like it’s their last. Ricky Reed Is Real is Andrew WK’s I Get Wet for the Dubstep Generation. It’s fun, it’s irresponsible, it’s got a song about vomiting. It’s all here. Not recommended if you’re staying home Friday night.

4. Charli XCX – True Romance

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Beyond penning an international smash hit for another group, Charli XCX has proven she’s likely going to be around a while making money and writing catchy songs. Meanwhile, she’ll keep all the underappreciated tracks for herself. She’s the new Terius Nash, in a sense, but unlike the Radio Killah, I wouldn’t be shocked to find a few future XCX tracks actually make their way onto the radio.

3. Classixx – Hanging Gardens

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Easily the most overlooked album of the year. This is your poolside soundtrack, ladies and gents. Featuring the best song of the past twelve months (which was actually released as a single in 2009, but I knew nothing about it), Hanging Gardens is a perfectly-produced mix of effervescence. Channeling Fleetwood Mac, then getting your body grooving in “All Your Waiting For” the next, and everything before, after, and in between, this should be added to that Summer 2014 playlist you haven’t made yet. Just do it now, I’ll wait.

2. Drake – Nothing Was the Same

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Late in Take Care, Drake lifts from Juvenile. Here, it’s early on, and it’s Mase, but these latest two albums, make no mistake, are completely 2013 hip-hop. Nothing Was the Same expands the trend Drake has perfected as the hottest rapper in the game right now, though occasionally not the most talented – that crown belongs to Kendrick. Nevertheless, Drake’s continued internal struggles with fame, love, and himself are instantly relatable, remarkable, while this pristine production encompassing it all sends the listener on a trip few hip-hop albums have accomplished. And once he’s got haters convinced he’s not soft with “Worst Behavior,” he flips them off with the incredible “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” Who’s hot, who not?

1. Disclosure – Settle

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In one short year, Disclosure has turned dance music on its head, from their inescapable hold on remix work, to those iconic face animations from the album cover above, to…well, Settle, the best album of the year, far and away. So many elements are hinted here to create a wave of unbeatable new sounds: deep house (“When a Fire Starts to Burn”), vocal-supported 90’s club jams (“White Noise”), grimy garage (“Grab Her!”). This British duo has cherry-picked what works and blended it with electronic music’s finest trait: joy. Settle represents the peak of a new generation of house music, breaking through to a large, captivated audience, and it’s going to be hard to beat for many, many years.

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