The Top 30 Albums Of 2013

By Lisa Hresko, Eric Davidson, and Lizzie Plaugic
Ah, the end of the year. That indefinite woozy space between one pug calendar and the next, after your Thanksgiving hangover and before your New Year’s hangover; that time when you eat as many Cheez-Its as possible before you resolve to give them up. But most importantly, it’s that time when the internet-access-having music commentariat rounds up its favorite albums. 2013 brought us Arcade Fire going HAM with marketing while Beyoncé and Death Grips ditched it completely; My Bloody Valentine returning from the hidden depths of feedback, David Bowie coming back from whatever he was doing, and Jay-Z’s weird “cake” verse on Nothing Was The Same.
This was also a year of fantastic free mixtapes and EPs (which you’ll find on our list), a cool-kid R&B resurgence (Sampha, Solange), basement-to-stage success stories (Speedy Ortiz) and the year music snobs could still let loose with fun pop jams (Lorde, Charli XCX ). We stayed up all night ’til the sun to cut this bad boy down to 30, and here, after several painful decisions and fights-to-the-death (almost), is what we came up with. You may notice one glaring omission from this list, and to that, dear Yeezus freaks, I will only say, “Do you really wanna read another commentary on how K-West lives up to his own self-perpetuated hype?”

Here’s what we’ve got:

30. YuckGlow And Behold (Fat Possum)

Though the tide of bubbly, over-fuzzed, under-water sounding shoegaze rock did not recede as expected (hoped?), this British band came up for a bit of air by not only losing their lead singer and yet being actually more sing-a-long-able, but they worked in enough tempo shifts and mood variety among songs to craft a solid whole album, along the lineage of early ’90s hook-churners like Teenage Fanclub and Velvet Crush. -ED

29. SavagesSilence Yourself (Matador)

In a year of uninspired band names, this British four-piece overcame their moniker by actually being quite savage on stage. Which helps, because icy, ‘80s post-punk mining has really become eye-rolling when you’ve seen the 37th dork with a few capital letters randomly placed in his “band” name standing behind a laptop trying to sound like Depeche Mode. This is not that. Savages re-tase Siouxsie And The Banshees’ epic dark-pop with thick rhythm and future-shock anger into some seriously sinister urban slinking around that still allows for the alley corner tip-toeing to turn into glossy dance steps. –ED

28. Boards Of CanadaTomorrow’s Harvest (Warp)

Secretive password protected websites, unannounced limited edition Record Store Day 12-inch, secretive snippets on radio and YouTube. Scottish brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin get big ups for marketing their comeback after an eight-year hiatus. But with big build, and the being the successor to the near-perfect Geogaddi, comes the potential for a stratospheric fall from grace. But the good news, since it’s obviously on this list, is that the album was triumphant return for the duo. Their tracks are a complex yet still accessible nostalgia riddled with anxiety and imminent fear. -LH

27. WaxahatcheeCerulean Salt (Don Giovanni/Wichita)
Katie Crutchfield has one of those blood diamond voices that holds onto its oddities. You know how they say you lose your accent when you sing? Crutchfield doesn’t. She’s originally from Birmingham, AL, so that accounts for her salty twang, but there’s something more unexpected in her vocals. It’s half lisp and half shy uncertainty, but it imbues Crutchfield’s music with a fading stickiness, like gum on a sneaker during a summer hailstorm. And Cerulean Salt manages to keep from overwhelming Crutchfield’s vox, despite its dripping guitar webs that chew away at everything else. And that is a feat in and of itself. -LP

26. My Bloody Valentinem b v (self-released)

The standard take is that, with all the time that’s passed (22 years!), there’s no way this could’ve lived up to the incrementally influential Loveless; not to mention that even if this record had surpassed that landmark, it would be hard for an album to ever have that kind of monolithic status anymore. Then again, this one did drum up a load comment, no? It’s probably best this self-released slab didn’t go too far afield from the band’s signature sound (re: Chinese Democracy), as since it’s been so long, we might needed assurance that that kind of dreamy power can survive some aging—and it has. And one can surmise that leader Kevin Shields exists on some plane we’re not aware of, where it’s still circa 1993. And what do you know, that’s kind of where a large strata of the indie rock music world is also currently sonically living. So between the expectations and the slab in front of you, ears still bled beautifully, and even the most pessimistic fans were happy to have it, finally. -ED

25. Charles BradleyVictim Of Love (Daptone)

Nary a sad song has been sung in 2013 the way Charles Bradley sings Victim Of Love. He’s got a spot-on soul croon with just a hurting rasp, and not without just cause. The once-homeless sixtysomething Bradley has put it all out there, naked as a baby jaybird. Left to languish, these emotions could have tied Bradley into an solitary rubber band ball, with the highs of love and their subsequent gut-twisting pain of a hallowing sadness, and, say it ain’t so, been “passed around like a tissue.” Yet by sharing such deeply personal moments and universal themes, he’s yet again won and warmed our hearts. -LH

24. Shy GirlsTimeshare [EP] (Hit City U.S.A.)

There’s a reason no one wanted to go to Discovery Zone when they were a kid. And it’s not because there was definitely pee in the ball pit, and it’s not because the pizza was soggy. It’s because everyone thought that DZ was just a second-rate Chuck E. Cheese’s. But you know why I liked Discovery Zone? Because no one would bother you with stories about the weird things their pet hamster does when you tried to find solace in the tunnel maze. When you first listen to Timeshare, you might conclude that it sounds like any of the recent offerings from emotional R&Bers, but that would be the wrong conclusion. In the space where How To Dress Well and the Weeknd shrug their shoulders, Shy Girls’ Dan Vidmar adds a spicy pepper element of isolated sneering, like maybe he doesn’t even really want to talk to you right now. -LP

23. Kurt VileWalkin’ On A Pretty Daze (Matador)

Okay, so it wasn’t Smoke Ring For My Halo (but neither was any other record of 2011). And like many a stab at a mid-career peak, double album statement, this probably should’ve been a single album. That said, we’re still in the “best songwriter alive” ballpark here. Vile has an instantly recognizable sound and style, an increasingly rare trait. And on this album, his fifth LP, he spreads his gorgeous guitar melodies and not-mournful moan out to gossamer gaunt. So it still flies like a wounded macaw through a rainbow poking out of smog above the best boho neighborhood in Philly. But if he asks me—and Vile is talented enough to eschew advice—he should go the rockin’ Violators route next album. For now, I’m going to go float away with this one some more. -ED

22. Chastity BeltNo Regerts (Help Yourself)

A chastity belt is designed to prevent someone, or two people, from doing something that’s usually considered a fun thing. Chastity Belt the band seems designed to encourage fun-having. I’m not just talking about sex, though No Regerts does feature songs called “Giant Vagina” and “Nip Slip.” I’m talking about anything that might make you feel good: casual party egomania, making fun of someone’s tattoos, dancing pantsless, oh, and “Pussy Weed Beer.” Beyond the cheeky lyrics, Chastity Belt offers up vegetable-oil-fueled garage rock with Julia Shapiro singing like the karaoke star of the night. No Regerts also has the singular honor of being the weirdest-named album on this list. So conrgats, Chastity Blet. – LP

21. Arcade FireReflektor (Merge)

Anyone who was so quick to call heresy on an indie band with a dress-code for shows probably hadn’t listened to Reflektor‘s joyfully tongue-in-cheek anthems yet. Or they were just pissed off at having to rent a suit from Joseph A. Banks after already paying $50 for a ticket, which, okay, we get it. And it’s true, there’s nothing remotely humble about the pomp here, but why should there be? It’s acceptable, even praised and love-mocked, for Kanye. Reflektor was a deservedly massive No. 1 record at college radio, decimating the competition for weeks on end, and it landed at No. 13 for the year after only spending seven weeks in release; that’s six fewer weeks than any other album in the top 15. Can we just admit that these talented men and women have earned their right to be just a little smarmy? -LH

20. Oneohtrix Point NeverR Plus Seven (Warp)

From the minimalist jaunt Problem Areas to the build-up of Boring Angel, Daniel Lopatin’s bouncy bits of bleeps and sonic dreamscapes have charmed us all year. And it may be minimalistic and soothing, but that’s not a translation for simple. He gave us the willies too with his very NSFW holy shit we are the fucking apocalypse-moment visualized by Still Life. Get out of my nightmares, Oneohtrix Point Never. -LH

19. Courtney BarnettThe Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas (House Anxiety)

This humble, diminutive Aussie inspires a stirring feeling that pulls you high out of the usual ironic sarcasm chasms to declare, “This is a special talent!” Her steady stream of cheeky jokes, serious emotion, youthful hutzpah, florid rhymes, and scruffy guitar strumming have already gained crit comparisons to none other than a young Bob Dylan. (I know, I know, but we haven’t pulled that ol’ fave out lately.) Her lyrical movements match the music’s, which, being Australian, always stay just raggedly right. This record was a U.S. combo of two previously released overseas EPs; expect a new LP soon. –ED

18. Joanna GruesomeWeird Sister (Slumberland)

While “shoegaze” rings of ubiquity, some have done it forever, like Slumberland Records. So leave it to them to release a few of the best pissy tweaks on the genre this year (Terry Malts, Wax Idols), with this debut being the best of ‘em. This Cardiff, Wales, five-piece can soar off on ’90s ride(s) at times, but most often stomp fast with definite but freshly flung mini-nods to other Clinton-era lights like Riot Grrls and Damaged Goods bands. Singer Alanna McArdle can woo high or screech low, and the whole band plays with a look in their eyes like they can’t believe this is happening, the kind of endearing charm you hope they can hold onto as they undoubtedly get more plaudits. –ED

17. Speedy OrtizMajor Arcana (Carpark)

On the opening track of Major Arcana, Sadie Dupuis sings, “I want a name/I want your name.” And since the July release of that album, they’ve pretty much gotten both. What Speedy Ortiz has carved out for itself in the saturated nouveau-garage realm is this: a niche space bordered on one side by an on-the-money redux of ‘90s basement sounds, and on the other, the tween thoughts of a doubt-filled loner. It’s as if junior high self-deprecation and cool kid guitar noodling started dating and all the cheerleaders don’t know what to do about it. This wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did. – LP

16. RhyeWoman (Polydor)

The R&B&Beats of the Canadian/Danish duo are divinely sensual. Producer/vocalist and solo artist Mike Milosh and producer Robin Hannibal are discerning sophisticates with a refined taste, broad scope of what constitutes romance and soul. And, to top it off, Woman is about love. Not the status-symbol, getting-bitches material love (which grossly sees women as material), but of the love that only comes with deeply rooted intimacy. Swoon. -LH

Next page: Albums 1-15

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