Top 50 Albums of 2013

Stack of albums

Chance the Rapper - Acid Rap40. Chance the Rapper
Acid Rap (Self-released)

This might be the least phoned-in mixtape in hip-hop history. Chancellor Bennett, who won’t be bar-legal until April, covers so much emotional terrain on Acid Rap that it feels like something you should really be paying for. Chance is fiercely clear on where he is and what he’s seen: modern Chicago, a city that preserves its outer glory while internally its youth are dying in unprecedented numbers. The placement steers Chance away from retribution and straight into diagnosing himself, coming up with whatever action plan he needs. Yeah, part of that plan includes a lot of drugs, but the demonically talented Chance turns Acid Rap into a more complete emotional snapshot than that. For all the exuberance in “JUICE” and “Favorite Song,” there’s a realistic portrait of a half-run relationship in “Lost” and a heartbreaking tour of skeletal Chicago in “Paranoia.” Chance’s wordplay keeps it at a joyful level of revelation throughout, but the character sketch hits home when you zoom out. Case in point: when Chance half-mourns his innocence in “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” imagining he hasn’t turned into the kind of kid that’s made his parents proud – then fields a majorly supportive (not planned) call from his father at the beginning of the final track, “Everything’s Good.” If he’s dosing as much as he suggests, at least Chance is doing it right. – Paul Pearson

Video: “Juice


Foxygen - We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic39. Foxygen
We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic (Jagjaguwar)
Buy at Insound

Foxygen claim to be the 21st century ambassadors of peace and magic, but their music makes it pretty clear who they believe to be the 20th century ambassadors. Drawing from the psychedelic pop sounds of The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Bob Dylan, Foxygen cultivate a similar aesthetic and sentimental direction to extremely satisfying ends. The fact that they sound like ’60s-era rock bands isn’t noteworthy, of course — any band could sprinkle in some fancy organ melodies and draw out their voice like the legends of old — Foxygen stand out for their instantly accessible melodies and continuously bending song structures. “No Desctruction” and “Shuggie” each excite and shift forms from beginning to end. Despite the drama surrounding some emotional moments at shows, and a series of cancellations, Foxygen’s music is all roses. Here’s hoping the bush continues to flower in the future. – Donny Giovannini

Video: “San Francisco


The National - Trouble Will Find Me38. The National
Trouble Will Find Me (4AD)
Buy at Insound

You can pretty much always count on The National to maintain a good degree of class, subtlety and poeticism in their work despite the current climate in popular music. This year, their sixth studio album Trouble Will Find Me proved this, more or less, yet again. While the shift in lyrical focus to more introspective and personal subject matter (family life, parenthood, etc.) seems to take a slight edge off Matt Berninger’s typically mundanely dark musings, it also allows the listener to access the songs (whether a single such as “Demons” or a late-album standout like “Pink Rabbits”) more intimately than High Violet. Combined with near-perfect song pacing, this intimacy allows Trouble Will Find Me to stand out as an excellent example of what The National does best and as an exciting indication of where they may go next. – Connor Brown

Video: “Sea of Love


These New Puritans - Field of Reeds37. These New Puritans
Field of Reeds (Infectious)
Buy at iTunes

Field of Reeds is an album of beautiful hopelessness. The third album from under-appreciated British art rock group These New Puritans is like the soundtrack to a Victorian tragedy in which happiness is only a distant nostalgia (“This Guy’s In Love With You”) and the world is governed by an oppressive sense of dread (“Spiral”). At times it borders on horror — the chorus of male voices that kicks off the title track is nothing less than unsettling — while at other times the album adopts the vibe of a doomed romance, best illustrated by the beautifully, darkly harmonized duet in “The Light in Your Name.”

But even through this unrelentingly dark atmosphere, Field of Reeds finds ways to surprise. “V (Island Song)” starts off as a wandering ballad before spiraling off into a lurching, bass-heavy groove that somehow feels both oppressive and totally danceable, while “Organ Eternal” creates a synthesis between classical composition and electronic looping that makes the two seem made for each other. In a year dominated by aggressively dark musical statements (here’s looking at you, Yeezus), Field of Reeds stands out as an album that creates that same sense of foreboding — but with a quieter sense of composure. – Sam Prickett

Video: “Fragment Two


KEN Mode - Entrench36. KEN Mode
Entrench (Season of Mist)
Buy at Insound

The tracklist of KEN Mode’s Entrench reads like the worst motivational self-help manual ever written: “No, I’m in Control”; “Your Heartwarming Story Makes Me Sick”; “Figure Your Life Out”; “Why Don’t You Just Quit.” The irony, of course, is that the Winnipeg noise rock/metal band makes music that runneth over with catharsis and white hot energy. If you feel like shit beforehand, the pure gnarl of KEN Mode’s sinewy grooves and shards-of-broken-glass guitar riffs will probably leave a few extra bruises in the process, but you’ll come out the other side feeling like a champion. “The Terror Pulse” is a test of will. “Counter Culture Complex” is a trial of endurance. And the seven-minute “Romeo Must Never Know” is a failed attempt at trying to get some sleep in a haunted house. Whether or not KEN Mode actually assists in your quest to figure your life out is up for debate; when listening to an album this furious and powerful, though, you probably won’t care. – Jeff Terich

Video: “Secret Vasectomy


Rhye - Woman35. Rhye
Woman (Loma Vista)
Buy at Insound

Woman is a sexy album. It’s drenched in sexy. From the cooing vocals to the libidinous lyrics to the close-up female photography of the album art, all signs point to sexy. That tag alone is unfair however, because Rhye pull off sexy in the most tasteful, mature way possible: Woman is a record that respects and worships sexuality, its impermanence, the carnal desires, and the pleasure of being in the moment. Fittingly, Woman is best described as a soul album, in line with contemporaries such as Autre Ne Veut and James Blake. Lead single “Open” spawned a series of excellent dance remixes (my favorite: “Jeff Samuel Faded Remix“) and Rhye also get in on the up-tempo action themselves with a couple highlight tracks, “Hunger” and “3 days.” Woman is a record that doesn’t sound like much else is 2013 — it’s fun, elegant, mysterious, and goddamn is it sexy. – Donny Giovannini

Video: “Open


Iceage - You're Nothing34. Iceage
You’re Nothing (Matador)
Buy at Insound

Denmark’s Iceage are more of a post-hardcore band than a traditional punk outfit. That being said, one wouldn’t easily confuse them with Taking Back Sunday, their music frequently recalling the vibrant intensity of Rites of Spring, The Jesus Lizard and Jawbox — all while presenting their own fresh, modern take on the genre. With their 2011 debut New Brigade, Iceage set the bar high. Sophomore effort You’re Nothing soars above it, boasting a dynamic sound made up of equal parts chaos and introspection.

On You’re Nothing, the riffs are often massive — borderline shoegaze — but the band injects a drive into their music that often recalls the intensity of Black Flag or Minor Threat. Still, despite a few obvious influences, You’re Nothing never feels referential. The frustration runs deep and true on this album, grabbing listeners and pulling them through waves of desperation, with just a tiny twinge of hope buried deep within their angst spin cycle. Pulling together 12 jarring tunes with a nihilistic aura, You’re Nothing is one of the strongest, freshest half-hours of punk to be released in quite some time. – A.T. Bossenger

Video: “Ecstasy


AlunaGeorge - Body Music33. AlunaGeorge
Body Music (Vagrant/Island)
Buy at Insound

When UK natives Aluna Francis and George Reid released their You Know You Like It EP last year, the success of their lead single set the bar sky high. Enter Body Music, a combination of R&B, pop, and electronic-soul living up to its hype by kicking off with a sensual slow dance in “Outlines” before dropping the nearly perfect “You Know You Like It.” To say Francis seduces with her commanding voice is an understatement when she sings, “If you wanna train me like an animal/ Better keep your eye on my every move.” Reid establishes the framework for the vocals brewing minimal beats shaping to fit every track accordingly. From the bizarre wash of vocal distortion of “Your Drums, Your Love” to the slow dubstep romp of the Montell Jordan cover “This is How We Do It,” he succeeds in injecting the key element to one of the sexiest albums of the year. The strongest ingredient to Body Music’s seduction is, unsurprisingly, the vocals of Francis. She sounds convincingly fragile on “Outlines,” witty on “Attracting Flies,” but consistently demanding listeners move their bodies. – Dan Pritchett

Video: “Best Be Believing


HAIM - Days Are Gone32. Haim
Days Are Gone (Columbia)
Buy at Insound

Haim’s debut was an album seven years in the making. From starting out with their parents playing covers, to playing a bunch of gigs in empty Los Angeles venues at the beginning, and later on being offered spots backing Jenny Lewis and Julian Casablancas for a few years, and finally selling out crowds across the globe this year, Haim’s hard work has paid off. Granted, it took a little while, considering these three sisters have been around music their whole lives, but Days Are Gone was worth the wait. Taking influences from a wide range of eras and genres, and working with a talented team of producers (Ariel Rechtshaid, Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford and the great Jessie Ware), Haim’s debut makes a compelling introduction into the world of three extremely talented sisters. Cynics can chime in all they want, but Days Are Gone is a charming album filled with an assortment of dynamite tracks that require some mental gymnastics and backward rationale not to love and enjoy. Anyone who denies the brilliance of this album is only denying him- or herself the pleasure of an amazing band. – Giovanni Martinez

Video: “The Wire


Deerhunter - Monomania31. Deerhunter
Monomania (4AD)
Buy at Insound

There’s a struggle that exists in black music and hillbilly music from a certain era. Old music resonates with me, new music doesn’t.”

Bradford Cox is no stranger to struggle, unlike contemporary indie acts such as Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire, there isn’t much romanticism to Deerhunter’s music. You won’t find any songs that take place in trendy cafes or find inspiration from ancient Greek love stories. Monomania is about a raw desire for acceptance, one that’s reflected both in Cox’s lyrics and the band’s musical direction. Monomania shifts away from the psychedelic experimentation of 2010’s Halcyon Digest and toward, well, “old music.” “Pensacola” has a rollicking southern rock jangle and “Dream Captain” plucks along behind some of Cox’s most raspy, desperate vocals. Monomania is, somewhat paradoxically, Deerhunter’s roughest and catchiest album. – Donny Giovannini

Video: “Back to the Middle

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