For albums 50-21, click here.
Nothing Was The Same
Drake continues to grow as an artist with Nothing Was The Same. The title can also act as a description of hip-hop since Drizzy’s arrival on the scene some years ago.
The relatively low-key Monomania had a singular focus, and it delivered on its goals. Bradford Cox, Locket Pundt, and company continue to be one of the most essential acts in the independent music scene, and they wear the badge of elder statesmen pretty damn well.
/// Run The Jewels
Run The Jewels
How do you follow up two of the best releases in rap during 2012? By combining your talents to create an even greater 2013 event. That’s exactly what El-P and Killer Mike did with their Run The Jewels project, which sounded so confident and authoritative it made most of their competitors look like they were playing in the sandbox.
A lot of people mistook Milosh’s vocals in Rhye’s mysterious 2012 singles as the voice of a female vocalist, largely due to their airy, delicate, and sensual delivery. Rhye’s ode to the female form was fully fleshed out, a breathtaking display of meditation.
/// Daft Punk
Random Access Memories
Nile Rogers first hinted at Daft Punk’s return in 2012, but no one wanted to get too excited about the prospect of the enigmatic French electronica artists reappearing anytime soon. And then it happened. And the world rejoiced. Random Access Memories recalls a time when music came about organically, which is rather ironic considering the duo built their name on 21st century electronica ethos. After building the blueprint for today’s musical landscape, they flipped the script in a way that only the robots could.
Matangi brought M.I.A. back right where she belongs. The album undid any ill feelings lingering after her difficult third LP and her middle-finger flipping stunt during the Super Bowl. Like her or not, it’s impossible to ignore that M.I.A. is one of the most fearless voices in pop right now.
The Bones Of What You Believe
Blissful synth-pop is the basic M.O. for Glasgow’s Chvrches. “The Mother We Share” signaled the group as a force demanding our attention, and The Bones Of What You Believe stands tall among its many peers.
Releasing an album in January can be risky. People and organizations have just ended compiling their year-end lists, and many are in need of a brief respite from the perpetual music release cycle. Yet Torres was able to transcend her early 2013 self-titled release, which featured some of the most honest, gut-wrenching musical moments from a singer-songwriter this year.
Lorde’s debut still seems too good to be true, even months after its release. She owned the fall months with her single “Royals,” and she proved to be worth all the attention when Pure Heroine announced that Lorde is destined to be much more than a one-hit wonder.
/// Blood Orange
Dev Hynes really came out of his shell in 2012, as his work as producer for Solange and Sky Ferreira helped cement his place among contemporary R&B’s most fascinating artists. 2013’s Cupid Deluxe pushed Hynes to further explore his musical ambitions, and his work with collaborators including members of Chairlift and Dirty Projectors, as well as Clams Casino and girlfriend/Friends’ frontwoman Samantha Urbani, showed that not only does Hynes have a strong musical vision, but he’s capable of employing many different voices to help achieve the same goal.
/// Kurt Vile
Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze
“I never smoke that stuff,” sings family man, and stoner-at-heart, Kurt Vile on the closing track of his phenomenal Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze. Throughout Daze, Vile gives us a close look into his inner workings, showing us how he stands out among his peers, while never casting a judging eye on anyone but himself.
/// Autre Ne Veut
Autre Ne Veut hit it out of the park with his excellent 2013 collection. For ten tracks, Arthur Ashin therapeutically exposes his soul, while never distancing himself from his audience.
/// Jagwar Ma
This remarkably cohesive debut LP from Australia’s Jagwar Ma was the perfect summer record. Full of infectious beats, wonderful melodies, and unique and engaging compositions, Howlin’ reverberates to this day.
Minimalist electronica artist Nico Jaar and blues guitarist Dave Harrington created a sprawling epic with their gorgeous 2013 release Psychic. Over the course of eight tracks, the duo use each moment to convey an emotion; from each guitar lick to every electronic blip to the moments of silence, there’s a purpose to it all.
/// Danny Brown
Goofball rapper Danny Brown has been begging to be unleashed ever since The Hybrid. 2012’s “Grown Up” showed a different, no less brilliant version of DB, which was further explored with the excellent Old. The album’s mix of traditional hip-hop beats and electronica club jams would certainly not work for just anyone. But Danny Brown has spent so much time cultivating and tending to his image, he’s able to make both sides sound genuine and essential.
/// Vampire Weekend
Modern Vampires of the City
Vampire Weekend made their biggest musical leap yet with their third studio LP, Modern Vampires of the City. While their previous two albums almost sounded like the band was hitting their notes by accident, there’s a consistency to this music, as well as clear thematic elements thus far unforeseen by the New York group.
Days Are Gone
Los Angeles’ sisterly trio Haim, and their increasingly pleasurable debut LP Days Are Gone, had been anticipated ever since the group was recognized by the BBC as the “Sound of 2013.” And while the album was initially applauded for its amazing consistency, the album only got better as the year went on. Their melodies are some of the most buoyant and carefree of the year.
Brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, despite being offensively young (thanks for making me question all my life decisions to this point, guys!) cannot be denied due to their young age. Settle was THE electronica album of the year, and its rotating cast of collaborators showed how to keep things flavorful without diluting the music’s essential qualities. The album is made to be played loud and proud, and the many featured artists help cement that notion by buying into Disclosure’s carefully composed music.
/// Kanye West
For the longest time, Yeezus was the best album of 2013. Arguably the most talked about rapper in the world, Kanye West oversaw one of the more ambitious promotional campaigns of 2013. It started with video projections from across the globe of a close-up of the excellent Yeezus track “New Slaves.” There were no prerelease singles, no promotional appearances other than the season finale of Saturday Night Live in May, and basically no album cover. By putting all the attention on the music, Kanye West made his biggest musical statement to date.
Critics everywhere cursed under their breaths when Beyoncé surprisingly released her fifth studio album with no fanfare proceeding its release. I had given up on the idea of Mrs. Carter releasing anything this year other than “Grown Woman” and “Bow Down,” and had began anticipating 2014 as the Year of Bey. After all, her 2013 was already pretty remarkable. She made jaws drop with her stunning cover shoot for GQ, she made us all remember why she’s our generations best entertainer during her tour de force Super Bowl halftime performance, and she made the internet gush with each new hairstyle she Instagram’d.
But she saved her biggest accomplishment for last. BEYONCÉ is unquestionably 2013’s most important, and best, album. The world’s biggest star shouldn’t be able to keep such a monumental project under wraps for as long as Bey did. Each track on her record-setting fifth studio LP is accompanied by stunning visuals that were shaped by Yoncé’s strong visual ideas. From the powerful imagery of black models taking ownership of their bodies in “Yoncé” to the American Horror Story-influenced imagery of “Haunted,” Beyoncé Knowles-Carter has never been as in control of her musical destiny as she is here. The album is full of so many high points that it is difficult to single out just a few. I could talk about this album all day, and listen to it even longer. And really, isn’t that what the best music is all about?