The 30 Best Albums of 2013 — So Far

Majical Cloudz - ImpersonatorMajical CloudzImpersonator
(Matador)
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With two LPs and a complete 180 in approach, Majical Cloudz is no longer an abstraction. Their latest effort, Impersonator, is an example of brilliance through sheer simplicity. “If this song is the last thing I do, I feel so good that I sang it,” Devon Welsh softly asserts in “This is Magic,” an ode to fearing death. Backing up Welsh is producer Matthew Otto, who uses churchy organs and subtle synth chords cooling down the warm baritone vocals to a frost. All 10 of the album’s songs guide the listener through the dark psyche of Welsh with soothing clarity, stirring a peaceful storm in the night. – DP

Bugs Don’t Buzz

Laura Marling - Once I Was an EagleLaura MarlingOnce I Was an Eagle
(Ribbon Music)
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The British folk artist takes a novelist’s approach, creating a character-driven song cycle that’s focused and spellbinding. Marling sketches a morality play that transcends the simple-minded limits of “good versus evil,” making this less of a confessional album than a statement of will. She coaxes an amazing amount of expression from a comparatively minimalist band. I’m having a hard time arguing with myself as to why this album isn’t perfect. – PP

Master Hunter

My Bloody Valentine - mbvMy Bloody Valentinembv
(Self-released)
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It seemed safe to assume this album would never happen, despite Kevin Shields’ reassurances. But then it arrived, broke the Internet and sucked up all the air in the room, and for good reason. My Bloody Valentine was not only back, but evolved in a uniquely weird way. There are worse things than being wrong, after all. – JT

Wonder 2

The National - Trouble Will Find MeThe NationalTrouble Will Find Me
(4AD)
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On their sixth album, Trouble Will Find Me, The National sound entirely in their element. In fact, they sound more comfortable than ever, but comfort in this case is not to be confused with laziness. Theirs is a loose, friendly kind of comfort, which results in a warm, even soothing sound. And after more than a decade, The National are a comfort to have around. – JT

Sea of Love

Phosphorescent - MuchachoPhosphorescent Muchacho
(Dead Oceans)
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Matthew Houck’s sixth record as Phosphorescent is arguably his best work to date. Though it is rooted in alt-country and modern indie rock, Muchacho really succeeds because of how powerfully it channels ’70s music – from T. Rex to Eno – in its stylistically diverse but consistently heart-wrenching duration. At times (and this is really the only weakness of the album) Houck sometimes goes just a little bit over the top, but no matter how ornate his arrangements become, they never fully block the listener’s emotional connection with the album. – CB

Song for Zula

Rhye - WomanRhyeWoman
(Loma Vista)
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In the midst of the current neo-neo-soul revival, alternative R&B duo Rhye made a statement of their own with March’s Woman. Perhaps the most truly progressive of the recent spurt of R&B records, Woman looks to ’70s quiet storm and the sensuality of Sade to create sleek, symphonic, and romantic compositions. They’re really best at writing hooks, though – see “Open” and “Last Dance” for examples – and this allows them to make music that is both exquisite and immediate. – CB

Open

Savages - Silence YourselfSavagesSilence Yourself
(Matador)
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UK foursome Savages conquered 2013’s first half with whirlwind intensity, conquering SXSW, selling out club dates, dropping their Matador debut and then announcing a tour with Queens of the Stone Age. The post-punk group is the pinnacle of badassery, delivering Joy Division and Siouxsie & The Banshees-inspired punk rockers with a sneer and artfully articulate perspective. Silence Yourself is the rare album that destroys with class. – JT

She Will

Thundercat - ApocalypseThundercatApocalypse
(Brainfeeder)
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Thundercat has had some pretty high profile collaborators — Erykah Badu, Flying Lotus — but the Los Angeles bassist and songwriter is, now, making some of his best work as a solo artist. Apocalypse, Thundercat’s second album, is a delightful rocket into space-age R&B territory, delivering funk jams with vapor trails and ballads on the moon. It’s a delight for the senses, and an achievement in songwriting that, despite its numerous layers, gets right to the groove. -JT

Heartbreaks + Setbacks

Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the CityVampire WeekendModern Vampires of the City
(XL)
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With Modern Vampires, Vampire Weekend have crafted an incredibly organic, thoughtful, and ultimately human record. The band works out their fears, troubles and observations with a gorgeous set of songs.  It’s a significant leap forward for the band. – CK

Ya Hey

Kurt Vile - Wakin on a Pretty DazeKurt VileWakin on a Pretty Daze
(Matador)
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Partly through his own songwriting, Kurt Vile has developed a reputation of being something like indie rock’s version of “The Dude,” but in spite of his perma-chill, the Philly singer-songwriter is something of an overachiever. There are no bum notes on his lengthy, guitar-heavy fifth album — just 11 of the year’s best rock songs. – JT

Wakin On a Pretty Day

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