The Top 10 Albums of 2013

Arcade Fire Innovates, Others Do Well With More of the Same

1. Arcade Fire – “Reflektor”

“Reflektor” is weird. In the greatest sense of the word. Arcade Fire’s follow-up to their Album of the Year Grammy-winning album “The Suburbs” is a symphony of electronics and indie rock. It just doesn’t sound like anything else out there. Which is admirable.

This collaboration with producer James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem yields an intense record that leans avant-garde.

The booming wall of sound on the title track is spine-tingling. As is the “Billie Jean”-like bass line on “We Exist.” In fact, goosebumps abound when listening to this album, a sign of excellence rarely seen in this year’s crop of new music.

There are puzzle pieces here that make for a complex yet listenable album. A baritone saxophone here, bongo drums there. Or a string section soaring high in the background.

This music is surreal. Plain and simple.

2. Disclosure – “Settle”

My Album of the Summer almost became Album of the Year. British electro duo Disclosure put out an instant-classic debut with beats, bleeps and vocal tracks that stunned the EDM community. I challenge you to come up with a better record from this year to move your feet to.

3. Frightened Rabbit – “Pedestrian Verse”

Scottish indie rock virtuosos Frightened Rabbit are quickly becoming one of the most prolific bands in music today. With two EPs and a great album out this year, the band is consistently cranking out material that is above par. Scott Hutchison’s endearing Scottish accent is the signature of the band, which also delivered some of the best live performances of the year both on their own tour and at Lollapalooza.

4. The Head And The Heart – “Let’s Be Still”

The Head And The Heart’s “Let’s Be Still” is best heard – headphones on – in the back seat of a car on a scenic drive, on a hike through the natural landscape or while sitting by the fire on a cold winter night. That’s how sublime it is. It’s celestial. Blissful. Warm and cozy.

The band’s second album is packed with violins and pianos in addition to acoustic guitar. The timbre of the record is intimate. And it sounds like the band is playing right in your living room. The title track is a gorgeous duet about the getting “lost in the music.”

Lovers take note: this record is as romantic as it gets. It will make you yearn for your sweetheart. And if you are single, it’s mix tape fodder for potential suitors. “Let’s Be Still” will magnetize and enchant your soul. 

5. Kanye West – “Yeezus”

He’s a d-bag. A hypocrite. An egomaniac. But… he makes great music. Chicago rapper Kanye West wowed us this year with a trio of tracks at the top of “Yeezus” that was the strongest opening salvo of the year.

“On Sight,” “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves” kick off “Yeezus” with a sonic boom of hip-hop genius. This is a rapper with something to say and he uses his bully pulpit wisely. “What you want a Bentley, fur coat, a diamond chain?,” he says in “New Slaves.” “All you blacks want all the same things.”

To say that rappers worship at the altar of luxurious excess is an understatement. Someone had to say it. Even if it was the man who flaunted the $1.25 million 15-carat diamond engagement ring he gave to fiancee and reality TV star Kim Kardashian. If you find it hard to support a rapper as hypocritical as Kanye, think of it this way: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

6. Foxygen – “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic”

California rockers Foxygen were one of the breakout stars at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. With their pseudo-psychedelic indie pop, the band ripped the competition. Their clean guitar rock sounds at times like influential ‘60s icons the Velvet Underground. And with Lou Reed’s passing this year, it’s nice to see another band step up with a similar sound.

7. Vampire Weekend “Modern Vampires of the City”

Vampire Weekend can never top their eponymous self-titled debut. But “Modern Vampires of the City” comes close. It’s this year’s go-to album when you don’t know what to listen to. The harpsichord used on songs like “Step” gives the album a regal feel.

The most underrated band in indie rock returns with “Desperate Ground” – a record that harkens back to their coarse 2003 debut “More Parts Per Million.” The Portland rockers could’ve easily rested on their laurels and released a carbon copy of 2010’s squeaky-clean “Personal Life.” But they chose the punk rock route, putting out a record of gritty three-minute ditties perfect for the friendly mosh pits that encapsulate the band’s live shows.

9. Washed Out – “Paracosm”

When the city kicks your ass, listen to this record. “Paracosm” possesses a distinct calming effect not produced as brilliantly by any other album this year. Washed out is a one-man band that features Ernest Greene tinkering with sound. With its quiet synths, chimes and bleeps “All I Know” is a meditative anthem with speckles of “Kid A”-era Radiohead. So put on your headphones, close your eyes and drift off into space.

10. Bleeding Rainbow – “Yeah Right”

For a straight-up indie rock record, Bleeding Rainbow’s “Yeah Right” is solidly good. The Philadelphia trio is definitely an underdog on the scene, but they are worth your while. Lead singer Sara Everton refreshingly doesn’t scream. She’s more Belinda Carlilse of The Go-Gos than Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Her vocals come out smoothly and with ease. As for the instruments, they sound like Sonic Youth without the dissonance. The band weaves its guitar lines into a patchwork quilt of indie rock goodness. Awesome. 

What was your favorite album of the year? Leave a comment below.

8 Responses

  1. jambajim says:

    My fave album of the year: Youth Lagoon’s “Wondrous Bughouse.”

    I also dug The Julie Ruin’s “Run Fast,” Pure X’s “Crawling Up The Stairs,” Deerhunter’s “Monomania,” Matmos’ “The Marriage of True Minds,” and Holopaw’s “Academy Songs, Vol. 1.”

  2. ConorTV says:

    I’ll have to revisit that Youth Lagoon album. I saw them at Pitchfork and wasn’t really all that impressed. I’ll check it out. Really, I thought this was kind of a lackluster year for music. Would you agree? Differ?

  3. Andrew Olson says:

    My Bloody Valentine’s ‘m b v’ is at the top of my list by a wide margin. Absolutely brilliant, such incredible textures.

    Other great albums I think are worth mentioning, no particular order:

    Local Natives – ‘Hummingbird’
    CHVRCHES – ‘The Bones of What You Believe’
    The National – ‘Trouble Will Find Me’
    Arctic Monkeys – ‘AM’
    Haim – ‘Days Are Gone’
    Youth Lagoon – ‘Wondrous Bughouse’
    Daft Punk – ‘Random Access Memories’
    Phoenix – ‘Bankrupt!’
    Au Revoir Simone – ‘Move In Spectrums’

    Bonus semi-underground album for your listening enjoyment (from 2012 actually, but I didn’t fall in love with it until this year): Black Moth Super Rainbow – ‘Cobra Juicy’

  4. Andrew Olson says:

    My wife Maria wanted me to post her list too.

    1. Kacey Musgraves – ‘Same Trailer Different Park’
    2. Disclosure – ‘Settle’
    3. Lorde – ‘Pure Heroine’
    4. Mayer Hawthorne – ‘Where Does This Door Go?’
    5. Haim – ‘Days Are Gone’
    6. The 1975 – ‘The 1975’
    7. Jamie Cullum – ‘Momentum’
    8. MS MR – ‘Secondhand Rapture’
    9. Phoenix – ‘Bankrupt!’
    10. Arctic Monkeys – ‘AM’

  5. jambajim says:

    Oh, I wasn’t impressed with Youth Lagoon live either, but on record, “Wondrous Bughouse” completely blew me away. The sequencing of the back half, especially, where our protagonist loses a loved one, goes mad, kills himself and ultimately ends up in hell. (The band denies all of that, by the way, claiming it’s not meant to be literal, but lyrics like, “I’m polluted by my blood, so help me cut it out and rinse it down the drain… Everybody cares” suggest otherwise.) Next time you have an hour to devote to a heavy, heady trip, grab the lyric sheet and a pair of headphones and go to town. It’s beautiful and devastating.

  6. ConorTV says:

    jambajim, I’ll do that. Also, I noticed this was a very good year for EPs. Frightened Rabbit’s “Late March, Death March” is better than the “Pedestrian Verse” album. And Bloc Party’s “The Nextwave Sessions” featured one of the year’s best singles – “Ratchet.” Plus, the Julie Ruin “Run Fast” EP is punk as f*ck and awesome.

  7. ConorTV says:

    It’s amazing how all of our lists are so different. Andrew, not a single title of mine is on your list. No offense, but I thought the Daft Punk record was overhyped and just devoid of fun. It’s like we were supposed to like it. I love them and have seen them live – INCREDIBLE. But this one just didn’t do it for me.

  8. Dave G says:

    I really haven’t been keeping up with new music this last year as much as I should, so I appreciate this list with the attached links. I was already down with the stuff Arcade Fire has been doing, but most of these tracks I hadn’t heard yet. I dig ’em all, except for the vocals on the Disclosure track, which I find to be too little girlish. Thanks for the list!

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