best albums of 2013

The 75 Best Albums of 2013

Jump back a decade and revisit the best albums of 2013, a year that saw the debuts of major female artists Kacey Musgraves, CHVRCHES, Haim, and Savages.

65. The Icarus Line – Slave Vows

In an alternate reality where whatever went wrong in American music history that led to the mainstream popularity of bands like Nickelback didn’t occur, the Icarus Line‘s Slave Vows is topping the rock charts. Boiled down to its core, it’s everything that once made rock great and also what it should be again. It’s dangerous and sexy, grimy and chaotic, and just sinister as fuck. Opener “Dark Circles” defines slowly mounting tension over its 11 minutes, building from a noisy dirgefest and then snapping into a brooding, tide-rolling meditation.

“Marathon Man” is a grinding rhythm of reveling in your chosen debauchery and nihilism, coalescing in feedback walls, barbaric yawps, and strangled saxophone bleats. For immediate terror, the stimulant-addled “No Money Music” fits the bill, and closer “Rats Ass” is a swampy mess of the best variety. For those rock aficionados grown cynical, Slave Vows is a salve for your disillusionment (though that the record isn’t more recognized may have the adverse effect of further validating your jadedness). Cole Waterman

64. Studio Killers – Studio Killers

It appears there’s a popular trend, as of late, for a singer’s true identity to be initially shrouded in mystery in order to garner attention. Swedish singer-songwriter Jonna Lee’s multimedia project/persona Iamamiwhoami is the perfect example, but electronic audio-visual collective Studio Killers win the prize for most enigmatic. Purportedly hailing from London and Hawaii, the lead singer, represented by a curvaceous, mascara-dripping femme fatale, sounds uncannily similar to Teemu William Brunila, the male former frontman of Finish band the Crash. Who knows? Who cares when the music is this delicious.

Arriving in 2011 with a paint-splattered animated video to accompany their blistering hot single “Ode to the Bouncer”, the virtual band (think Gorillaz) of Chubby Cherry, Goldie Foxx, and Dyna Mink finally released their debut, self-titled album this summer. It was well worth waiting two years for. Filled to the brim with philosophical and pop cultural lyrical references, the dancefloor-ready, scathingly witty collection of songs is devoid of any filler and dispels the notion that the pop album is a dying breed. Studio Killers crafted one of 2013’s finest records, pop or otherwise. – Ryan Lathan

63. Lorde – Pure Heroine

It seems as though recent dance music has been nothing but a bombardment of screeching vocals, pounding drums, and the loudest synthesizers ever known to humankind. Music trends always seem to swing back and forth, with the next biggest fad being the zag to the mainstream established zig. Lorde‘s Pure Heroine is that zag. Touting influences from Fiona Apple and Lana Del Rey, Lorde has that waifish look accompanied by a powerhouse voice that seems completely unbefitting of such a small thing. Pure Heroine is the antithesis of the wannabe-anthem dance tracks that have permeated long enough. Every track is restrained, quietly executed, and a complete pleasure to listen to. She manages all the power and punch with such minimal instrumentation that you forget there is very little going on. Pure Heroine is refreshing to tired ears. Enio Chiola

62. The Haxan Cloak – Excavation

In a year when electronic music (Fuck Buttons, the extraordinary occult-themed Outer Church compilation) occasionally rivaled extreme metal for darkness and depravity, the most eldritch album was undoubtedly Excavation by the Haxan Cloak. Released as a thematic follow-up to 2011’s eponymous death-folk debut, the record saw gloom auteur Bobby Krlic expanding his sonic palate to construct a singular aural landscape representing the journey of the soul post-mortem.

Beginning with “Consumed’s” opening plummet-through-the-trapdoor sub-bass before reaching an undulating, entirely ominous conclusion with “The Drop”, the album is relentlessly atmospheric in its imagining of the undiscovered country. With its churning percussion and atonal pseudo-church organ, meanwhile, the two-part “The Mirror Reflecting” may well be the single most relentlessly oppressive piece of music released all year. Abandon hope. – Phil Mason

61. Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience (Part 1)

After dropping the first half of The 20/20 Experience this spring, Justin Timberlake stood accused of practicing eight-minute songs without a permit, in addition to polymath likeability in the age of niche marketing. Complainants propped their disdain on shifty metrics of formalism and authenticity as if only such rigid standards — and a docile whipping boy — could erase the shame of loving pop. The rest of us, meanwhile, saw scant reason to resist the advances of 20/20’s euphoric, thoroughly modern riff on the song-suite soul of Stevie Wonder and Isaac Hayes.

Timbaland is once again Timberlake’s wingman of choice, and his 24-karat soundscapes are volubly yet shrewdly habit-forming. But it’s the triple-threat himself who closes the deal. When the same skinny white guy playing an urban faux-honky for the brothers Coen here extols the virtues of “thick” women, it’s charm that makes that posturing endearing. Timberlake’s, like his voice, might be thin, but it’s flexible and never quits, and some nights, that’s all you really need. – Benjamin Aspray

60. Icona Pop – This Is… Icona Pop

Icona Pop are the hipster’s answer to Katy Perry. Not that there’s anything wrong with Katy Perry, but Icona Pop have this alterna-chick edge that no other mainstream pop artist seems to possess in 2013. Singing songs written almost entirely by other people, produced by other people, and with an image that I wouldn’t be surprised if it were composed by other people, Icona Pop trudge through all the traditional credentials that would secure a “cool” place in music by backing themselves with some of the smartest and funnest (I know it’s not a word) tracks since Robyn’s Body Parts. From the scathing and reckless anthem “I Love It” (which is everywhere!) to the power pop “All Night” and “Light Me Up”, you got to give it up for girls that sing: “I won’t hesitate / Even if I go down in flames / Light me up!” These girls came to party. – Enio Chiola

59. In Solitude – Sister

On their third record, Sister, In Solitude has found a way to absorb their influences and claim a sound of their own. The classic metal foundation laid down by their obsession with Mercyful Fate remains squarely in place. On top of that, they’ve mixed post-punk, deathrock, goth, and more, opening doors to other modes of dark expression. But it isn’t just a broadening of the sound that makes this record so special. In Solitude have a new confidence. Singer Pelle Åhman frees himself from the constraints of aping Mercyful Fate’s King Diamond and finds a howling voice that is truly his. Guitarists Niklas Lindström and Henrik Palm stake a claim with their new palette, mixing a 1970s tone with a more modern attack. By removing the shackles of their singular influence, In Solitude step into a black light spot of their own. – Erik Highter

58. Paramore – Paramore

After the success of 2007’s Riot!, being sucked into the vortex of Twilight cross-promotion, and releasing the underwhelming Brand New Eyes in 2009, Paramore had some serious growing up to do. Musically they were at a dead end, and brothers Zac and Josh Farro quit the band in bitter fashion. Freed of that excess weight and backed up by superior musicians, Hayley Williams and guitarist Taylor York — the group’s best songwriter — finally had the freedom to flex their musical chops and emerged triumphant on Paramore.

Musically varied, vibrant, and mature, it ambitiously careens between an edgy hard rock (“Fast in My Car”, “Now”, “Anklebiters”), 1980s R&B (“Ain’t It Fun”), power pop (“Daydreaming”), tender balladry (“Hate to See Your Heart Break”), and lavish Spector-esque melodrama (“(One of Those) Crazy Girls”). At the heart of it is Williams, who sounds liberated, injecting her ebullient personality into the music with gusto. Led by the irresistible “Still Into You”, Paramore is a wonderful moment of transcendence for Williams and her band. – Adrien Begrand

57. Suede – Bloodsports

A decade in self-exile obviously lit one hell of a fire in Brett Anderson’s scrawny belly. There were scores to settle. The messy split that followed 2002’s underperforming A New Morning had all but sentenced this once-beloved band of outsiders to pop’s dumper of doom. From rags to riches to digging ditches. They were becoming a mere footnote to the 1990s, falling somewhere below Tony Blair’s grin, NUTS magazine, Oasis and Blur’s playground bickering, and Ginger Spice’s cleavage, though mercifully above Shed Seven.

Bloodsports was their death-or-glory chance to pull their legacy from the fire and scale the museum walls leaving Dodgy, Cast, and Toploader behind for good. In doing so, they crafted this admirably heroic comeback, which magically fused the snaked-hipped glitter-pop of Coming Up with the melancholy martyrs and doomed devotion of Dog Man Star. A bittersweet and bruised record wrapped wisely with scars, lust, secrets, and lies. “I smile as the rope cuts through me,” barks Anderson defiantly as the brooding “Sabotage” descends. And the band played on! O Captain, My Captain, our future is still unwritten! – Matt James

56. Popstrangers – Antipodes

Every day, you can find a new band that is co-opting the holy altar of 1990s alternative rock, and often it’s a very, very bad imitation of what came before, bands unsure if they want to be Pavement or Soul Asylum or some terrible iteration in-between. For this New Zealand trio, however, their debut album Antipodes isn’t a mere tribute; it’s an out-and-out synthesis. You can hear that dirty basement sweat percolate between reverberating guitar plucks, capable of dark atmospherics in songs like “Occasion”, and then unleashing radio-ready pop hooks in the form of tracks like “Heaven”.

The group is smart about song structures, the familiar sonic elements that immediately invoke nostalgia but not towards any one specific band, and best of all, their plan is never overthought. Antipodes reminds us of those great alt-rock albums because it never overplays its hand, going straight for flannel catharsis over visceral impact, Popstrangers the whole time being wise enough to remember that you can’t have one without the other. – Evan Sawdey

55. London Grammar – If You Wait

Sometimes you encounter a voice that stops you dead in your tracks. It’s the kind of voice that instantly evokes a mood, a particular emotion, or even an entire season within its timbre. Hannah Reid of the English art-pop rock trio London Grammar possess such a staggering instrument. She smolders in her smoky mid-range and roars bright and clear in the upper end, recalling the brooding earthiness of a Marina Diamandis or Natasha Khan and the breathtaking folk soprano of a young Joni Mitchell.

Pensive, melancholic ballads, nocturnal grooves, and atmospheric laments on youth and matters of the heart form the core of London Grammar’s sound and the subject matters they explore. Perfectly suited for the falling of leaves and long winter nights, this is a record both fragile and full of exuberant hope. The inner life of the walking wounded and the angst of embracing adulthood haven’t been this well documented on record in quite a long time, and I can say without hesitance that If You Wait is a classic in the making. – Ryan Lathan