Top 20 Albums Of 2013 (So Far)
September 3rd, 2013 9:45pm EDT
The amount of excellent music releases this year has been staggering, and it’s been almost impossible to figure out what music to get and what to skip. So, here is a list of the twenty most essential records of the year so far:
“Run the Jewels” Killer Mike and El-P
Killer Mike and El-P unite after individually putting out two of the best hip-hop releases of last year. The results: one of the most focused, fun, and aggressive hip-hop albums of 2013.
“Immunity” Jon Hopkins
Saying that something is a journey in musical form may be an antiquated means of describing something, but it’s truly the only means of describing the epic nature of this record, which features more climaxes and action than most big budget movies.
The genre of post-rock was in need of some refreshing, and Deafheaven have done just that by fusing signature elements of the genre with the loud, angry sound of death metal with nothing short of sublime results.
“MCII” Mikal Cronin
After assisting Ty Seagull on many of his best releases, Mikal Cronin finally came into his own with this record and proved himself to be a master of power pop.
Masterfully crafted minimalist pop that puts groups like The XX to shame without even flexing a muscle.
“Trouble Will Find Me” The National
The National continue their streak of stellar albums with this one, and this one is their most mature and possibly best work to date.
“Tomorrow’s Harvest” Boards of Canada
Boards of Canada, the other electronic duo that long disappeared from music, deliver their best record to date after an overly long hiatus. This is the perfect soundtrack to wandering through a nuclear wasteland, if you should ever come across one.
The French are just better at making electronic music than anyone else, and Kavinsky is the best of the next generation of French beat makers. This record is best when listened to late at night driving quickly with the windows down, and sounds like it’s destined to soundtrack the next Nicolas Winding Refn movie (“Nightcall” was prominently featured in his masterpiece “Drive”).
“Anxiety” Autre Ne Veut
R&B has been making a big comeback lately, and this record can be added to the growing collection of exceptional albums coming out of the genre lately. This one veers a little from the genre’s traditional sounds and incorporates out of tune horns, high pitched vocals, and Prince style 80’s jams with spectacular results, and is one of the most sonically compelling and dynamic releases of the year.
The album might be called “Bankrupt!” but it’s clear that they aren’t so artistically. This record continues their hit streak with tracks “Trying to Be Cool” and “Entertainment” while also expanding out their sound to incorporate everything from dense synths to harpsichords and even pan flute at one point, and it all somehow works, proving yet again that Phoenix are the titans of alternative right at this moment.
“True Romance” Charlie XCX
Charlie XCX’s proves that her mix tapes were in fact no fluke and goes even further, proving that she is the best female pop vocalist in the world right now. Songs like “Take My Hand” and “Set Me Free” would make Katy Perry jealous, and the fact is there’s not a bad track on the record.
“Overgrown” James Blake
James Blake avoided sophomore slump here and managed to craft an album that is just as good as his debut in every key way, but also better produced and much more accessible as well, and it becomes apparent from listening to this album that James Blake isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
“Random Access Memories” Daft Punk
Arguably the most important record of the year (although far from the best), Daft Punk’s long awaited return to album making found the duo seeking out influences from the 70’s, drafting legends like Nile Rodgers, Paul Williams, and Giorgio Moroder and combining them with modern masters like Panda Bear, Pharrell, and DJ Falcon resulting in a record that managed to pay tribute to disco while also modernizing it. There are definitely some missteps on the album (“Giorgio By Moroder” and “Within” come to mind) but it’s ultimately an entertaining record and it’s great to finally have the duo back.
A record written by a man who though he was dying, “Obsidian” is definitely not a happy, uplifting listen. However, it’s filled with beautiful instrumentation and a completely unique combining of MPC style drums and classical instruments. It’s undoubtedly the best rainy day record of the year.
“Kveikur” Sigur Ros
Jonsi and the gang finally return to the sound that made them famous in the first place after last year’s markedly weak ambient release, and the results are triumphant, featuring all of the group’s signature elements: the other worldly vocals, the bombastic drums, and the soaring strings, and yet here they sound refreshed again and there is newfound energy in the band, all of which leads to this being one of their best releases yet.
“20/20 Experience” Justin Timberlake
2013 seemed to be the year of long absent artists making their return to music, and Timberlake’s was the best of the bunch and “20/20” is his best album to date. The thing that makes the record so fantastic is it’s no compromise approach to making music, with every song going over the four minute mark and nothing that sounds overly radio friendly or dumbed down, and Timberland’s complex and masterful beats. Hopefully, the second half of the record will be half as good as the first, because if it is, it will also find a spot on this list at the end of the year.
Just when EDM was getting stale, Disclosure showed up and saved the day. The two brothers know how to get the best out of their guest singers, with amazing vocals from Sam Smith, Ed Macfarlane, and Jessie Ware, and also out of the samples they work with, most notably on the best electronic track of the year “When a Fire Starts to Burn” which dares you not to dance along.
“Yeezus” Kanye West
For all the negative hype surrounding Kanye this year (the baby name, the camera incident) it’s hard to deny that the only thing that people should have been paying attention to from him is this record, which managed to be just as good as his last record, the masterpiece “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” Kanye is at the top of his game rapping wise, and is supplied with some of the most progressive and challenging beats ever used in hip hop as a result of working with master beat makers like Hudson Mohawke and some stellar collaborations with Daft Punk, Bon Iver, and Skrillex, amongst others. It’s not an easily digestible record, and it certainly doesn’t attempt to win over any haters to his cause, but at the end of the day, this is the best hip hop record of the year, and truthfully, the only one that matters anyway.
“The 1975” The 1975
The 1975’s debut record is the perfect pop record and should be admired by anyone who calls themselves a “pop artists.” It’s not short at 16 songs, but nothing sounds out of place and every track is perfectly produced, sung, and performed and yet all that really matters is the fact that it’s the most fun, catchy, and memorable record of the year, and puts efforts by other groups like Maroon 5 and Fall Out Boy to complete shame.
“Modern Vampires of the City” Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend aimed to be the best band in New York City with this record, and what they have in fact done is proved that they are the best band in the world at this moment. The record is about getting older and losing touch with God and religion, and these themes are presented in such a way that it makes the album genuinely affecting and quite possibly the best lyrical work of the year. Even better than the lyrics, however, is the instrumentation, which takes the band away from their Paul Simon “Graceland” era influence and instead incorporates in elements of gospel, folk, and hip hop with spectacular results. Everything about the record is perfect, from the first drum hit on “Obvious Bicycle” all the way to the gorgeous ending piano riff on “Young Lion” and honestly it’s hard to think of a better album in recent memory than this one.
Related: Autre Ne Veut, Boards of Canada, Charlie XCX, Daft Punk, Deafheaven, Disclosure, El-P, James Blake, Jon Hopkins, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Kavinsky, Killer Mike, Mikal Cronin, Phoenix, Rhye, Run the Jewels, Sigur Ros, The 1975, The National, Vampire Weekend, Starpulse Exclusives, Music, CD Reviews, R & B, Rap/Hip-Hop, Music Videos, Pop, Indie Music, Power Pop, Alternative, Top 10 Lists
Photo Credits: Paul Froggatt / PR Photos