by Lisa Hresko, Dan Jackson and Lizzie Plaugic

2013 is shaping up to be a big year for resurrections. From My Bloody Valentine to Daft Punk to Yeezus himself, artists from different genres, time periods and tax brackets have delivered major event-albums that aren’t afraid to feel like event-albums. These records do what big records are supposed to do: rise to the occasion. Some have stumbled along the way (sorry Justin Timberlake) but all of them reached for something grand.
That’s not to say there are no new, exciting artists doing work that deserves to stand with the returning giants. Below, you’ll find an alphabetically ordered list—sorry, gotta wait till the end of the year for a more “official” ranking—of the 20 albums we’ve loved the most so far this year. Some took over a decade to make. Some are mixtapes. One is an EP. What do they have in common? They’re all on this list.

AmmbushAmmbaataa (SWTBRDS)

“The Ammbaataa experience is kinda out of body,” observes Bay Area producer-turned-rapper Ammbush on “Tabernacle T,” the opening track to his swirling, intoxicating 15-track mixtape Ammbaataa. It’s not an especially brazen claim—his woozy production work for fellow hip hop stalwarts DaVinci and Main Attrakionz was equally transportive—but what sets this tape apart is that once Ammbush has you out of your body, he takes you into his head, a place filled with drug-addled musings, low-key zingers and lots of wrestling references. Seriously, dude loves wrestling. – DJ

BombinoNomad (Nonesuch)

First receiving his wide-spread release by Sublime Frequencies on the second iteration of the label’s Guitar From Agadez series, Tuareg rock guitarist Omara “Bombino” Moctar made his make mark heading Niger’s Group Bombino and writing compelling protest songs. Eventually he grabbed the ear of Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach, who produced Bombino’s sophomore album Nomad, and Nonesuch Records, finally escaping the nebulous genre-dump of “world music” to find recognition of what he’s always been: a straight-up political shredder. – LH

Chance The RapperAcid Rap (Self-Released)

I’m not sure if Chance The Rapper is the kid everyone wants to take to homecoming or the kid in the corner of the lunchroom with shifty eyes building a castle out of his string cheese. I always wonder this when musicians write lyrics mainly about how great they are, because they probably just recently evolved into greatness. That’s a real-life Revenge Of The Nerds: proving you have more talent than the kids who gave you swirlies in gym class. Chance is totally a nerd—lyrics about Rugrats, the Higgs Boson, hashtags, mid-song coughing and laughing—but it’s classic nerdom packaged in a low-gravity beat. Like eating a Gusher, you’ve gotta get through the unassuming candy shell before it explodes goo in your mouth. Wait, what was I talking about? – LP

Charli XCXTrue Romance (IAMSOUND)

If there’s an album that’s going to stick in everyone’s mind (like that time you started a conga line with that guy known only as “Uncle Tony”) it’s gotta be this one. With both insta-hits (“Nuclear Seasons”) and mutli-listen growers (“You’re The One”) plus a lesson in how to end an album (“Lock You Up”), True Romance is like sonic super glue. While some pop stars are content to rely on sure-thing hooks and celebrity cameos, Charli XCX burns her songs in the listener’s already-crowded frontal cortex via minimal shifts in pitch and taunting build-ups. Sure, those ’80s synths and bubbly love lyrics help, but ultimately, this is an exercise in longterm takeover. Also, pretty much no one likes Brooke Candy’s verse in “Cloud Aura,” and, for the record, I do. – LP

Daft PunkRandom Access Memories (Columbia)

If Pacific Rim is correct, a race of giant tentacle-packing creatures will soon rise up from the oceans and declare war on civilization, and we, as humans, will have to use skyscraper-sized robots to stop them. In the movie’s trailer, these robots look like fat Transformers, lumbering through the air with all the grace of a toaster rolling down a hill. They’re not exactly sleek. If Earth was really under attack, wouldn’t you rather be defended by two dance-music loving French robots? Sure, they’d probably try to tell the sea monsters about Giorgio Moroder. Yeah, they’d probably over-stay their welcome. But they’d get the job done. They always do. – DJ

Next page: Top 20 Albums Of 2013 (So Far…): Continued

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