So, yeah. 2013 was a pretty crazy year in music. From major artists taking Radiohead’s nonchalant release act to new and impressive levels (My Bloody Valentine, Justin Timberlake, David Bowie, Kanye West, Jay Z, Beyoncé), to artists who were once the sole possession of the indiesphere striking out in big ways (Daft Punk, Arcade Fire), there was certainly a lot to talk about regarding 2013’s musical output.
Here to help try to sort this all out, this is my list of the 50 best albums of 2013. The top 20 will arrive shortly.
Album titles link to album reviews, or the album’s AnyDecentMusic? score page.
/// Majical Cloudz
Atmospheric pop is taken to gut-wrenching heights thanks to Devon Walsh’s gorgeous, haunting vocal clarity.
/// Mikal Cronin
Undeterred by the decline of rock ‘n roll, Mikal Cronin puts his time spent touring with Ty Segall to good use with a heaping dose of rock (you know, that thing with guitars!) that is so far out of the mainstream musical tendencies it can only be endearing.
They left Broadway for the California sun, and the move pays immediate dividends with their psychedelic third LP, and by far their most high-profile release to date.
/// The National
Somewhat unceremoniously devalued when it was released, The National’s latest offering of melodramatic indie rock sounded better and better as the year went on. From the masterful “Pink Rabbits” to the affirmative “Sea of Love,” The National are still more than capable of producing worthwhile records.
/// James Blake
More structured than his airy self-titled debut, Overgrown does more than a good job of positioning James Blake as one of the UK’s most blossoming, forward-thinking young singer-songwriters.
/// A$AP Rocky
From star-studded posse cuts (“Fuckin’ Problems,” “1 Train”) to hip-hop with crossover appeal (“Wild For The Night,” “Fashion Killa”) to ambitious hip-hop tracks (“Long.Live.A$AP,” “Suddenly”) A$AP Rocky’s debut seemed to have it all, and the rapper appeared deft at handling any terrain.
/// Kevin Gates
Kevin Gates followed up with The Luca Brasi Story with the major-label Stranger Than Fiction. While both are worth your listen, his grizzled major-label release shows one how to make an album for a large audience without alienating your most ardent supporters.
/// The Weeknd
His string of 2011 mixtapes remain the best thing Abel Tesfaye has recorded thus far, yet his official debut LP, Kiss Land, was ambitious and uncompromising in a way R&B seldom seems to be. It’s not always pretty, but, more importantly, it’s never dishonest.
/// Death Grips
Now that they don’t have to deal with meddling record labels, Death Grips are free to release music however they want. Their (surprise!) 2013 album was a clear step up from the instigating No Love Deep Web, and showed that this noise-pop collective is far more than just shock and awe.
/// Various Artists
Chromatics, in this one humble man’s opinion, released the best album of 2012 with Kill For Love. Chromatics member and Italians Do It Better founder Johnny Jewel followed up that stunning release with a sequel to the highly influential After Dark, released in 2007. After Dark 2, like its predecessor, is composed of compositions from a house of Italians Do It Better artists, including the aforementioned Chromatics, Glass Candy, Symmetry, and Desire. Altogether, the acts create a remarkably cohesive sound, with each artist bringing something different to the table.
/// Pusha T
Pusha T was finally able to release an album this year, and instead of showing us why his label waited so long to release the album, it made the numerous delays even more confounding. How could Def Jam sit on this confident and compelling release for so long? Whatever the case, My Name Is My Name is a definitive statement from the Clipse member, one that demands to be heard.
/// Charli XCX
After writing for some of the biggest females in pop, Charli XCX somehow had enough in the vault to produce this stunning collection of electo-pop gems.
The artwork says it all. It’s a brooding image of a cloaked man hunched over, trying to escape the heavy, clouded sky. Throughout Obsidian, Will Weisenfeld tries to escape from the darkness, both external and internal, with the album crucially leaving the verdict up to the listener.
/// The Knife
There’s no “Heartbeats” or “We Share Our Mother’s Health,” but what there is is some of the most cinematic, visual music The Knife has ever produced. It can surely be a difficult pill to swallow, what with a 19-minute cut spliced in smack dab in the middle of the thing, but if you can get through it, the rewards will be numerous.
/// Ty Segall
Us people rarely welcome change with open arms. So a round of applause is in order to Ty Segall, who traded in his electric guitar for an acoustic, but didn’t trade his work ethic or musical superiority over his peers.
/// Justin Timberlake
In case I need to be clear, I’m only referencing part one of The 20/20 Experience, which ignored Top 40’s most popular sounds (most of which JT helped create due to FutureSex/Love Sounds) to better fit suit the singer’s current frame of mind. From the opening “Pusha Love Girl,” JT is on some classic shit, with each track flowing meticulously and without any rush. Sometimes it’s nice to sit back and let the man of the year do the talking.
/// Mutual Benefit
By recording an album that sounds as if it came from another time period, Jordan Lee unintentionally stumbled upon 2013’s major musical motif.
/// Earl Sweatshirt
Now that Earl’s free, he can get back to doing what we all love him for; being the best thing about Odd Future. “Chum” showed us Earl Sweatshirt’s infinite talents, and his follow-up singles only further cemented his place among the best of hip-hop’s younger generation.
/// The Child of Lov
It hardly seems possible that he’s gone. Cole Williams tragically passed away last week, leaving behind his fully idealized and fleshed out debut self-titled LP. Even though he’s gone, the music he graciously left for us remains full of vitality. May his freak flag always fly high.
It was a pretty good year for women in rock ‘n roll. When we look back at 2013, and its collection of female rock albums, Waxahatchee’s Cerulean Salt will certainly stand among the best.
Meeting expectations after a great first couple of singles can be difficult, if not impossible. Just ask Lana Del Rey. But AlunaGeorge was able to defy the norm and capitalize on the success of their 2012 singles with the airy, sensual Body Music.
/// Sky Ferreira
Sky Ferreira was able to push her personal demons to the side on the exquisite Night Time, My Time. She hardly sounds out of place on the grunge-pop record; in fact, she’s never sounded as in control of her musical direction, and that includes her flawless 2012 single “Everything Is Embarrassing.”
It’s fitting that there is not much information out there on Postiljonen, who somehow flew beneath the radar the entire year following their gorgeous debut, Skyer. We do know they’re from Stockholm, and consist of members Mia Brox Bøe, Joel Nyström Holm, and Daniel Sjörs. It’s also quite evident from Skyer that while they are comfortable residing on the outskirts of the mainstream, sooner or later they’ll be forced to feed the demand.
Chance The Rapper
With Acid Rap, Chance The Rapper resigned from the minor leagues and declared himself a major force in the hip-hop community. He provided an excellent verse to the overlooked “Wendy ‘N Becky,” his collaboration with Joey Bada$$, and ended 2013 with a cosign from none other than Justin Bieber on one of his weekly singles. But Acid Rap is his crown jewel, full of memorable moments and vocal and lyrical displays that show Chance (and please say The Rapper) to have already carved out for himself a particular sound and image he can call his very own.
If you need an album to drown out the sound of the crazies trying to hijack women’s reproductive organs, look no further than the visceral and intense Silence Yourself.
Much more than just a couple of great highlights (there are those, too), Muchacho is a fully realized work from an artist breaking through and finding musical nirvana.
/// Arcade Fire
The reception to Reflektor could not have been more divisive. While most critiques began with the Grammy winning group performing a two-month promotional campaign, they ended with arguments against Reflektor‘s sprawling runtime and its more heady moments. But if you can reconcile the one time independent music darlings going to the big leagues, then Reflektor reveals itself to be an exciting and interesting shift in the band’s sound. And anytime James Murphy is involved with a production, the result can never be poor. It’s science.
/// Jenny Hval
The left-field Innocence Is Kinky, from Norwegian singer Jenny Hval, is probably the strangest thing I heard all year. Hval chirps and whistles her way through many tracks, which also feature some guttural and raw productions. When an album begins with a singer whispering, “At night, I watch people fucking on my computer,” there’s really only one direction for it to go.
/// Jon Hopkins
Jon Hopkins could have probably gone on and lived in obscurity after his collaborations with mega-superstars Coldplay, but he has been kind enough to deliver some of the best music in recents years, with his collaborative album also featuring King Creosote, as well as his 2013 solo effort. Immunity is one of the most affecting electronica music albums released this year, and without a doubt Hopkins best.
/// Volcano Choir
Justin Vernon’s time is mostly occupied by music, or so it seems after his very busy past couple of years. Following 2011’s Bon Iver, Bon Iver, he’s recorded with Kanye West on Yeezus, as well as performing in the bands The Shouting Matches and Volcano Choir. The latter’s 2013 album Repave marked his biggest stride to hitting the emphatic notes of his music with Bon Iver, and it’s band mentality shines through with each member providing their own spotlight.