54. Russian Circles – Memorial
Chicago post-metal trio Russian Circles are one of those rare bands who, with each album, continually get better and better. Every studio LP these guys have made has done something significant to improve and refine their sound. The consequence of following a trajectory like this is that it leaves the listener wondering when that one crystallizing moment will arrive. 2011’s Empros seemed like that moment, and to this day, it’s still an impressive achievement. But what a revelation Memorial is: though the shortest and, in many ways, the most intimate release of the trio’s career, it’s also their most expansive and emotionally devastating. Memorial is a meditation, a tone poem about grief and departure — and, incredibly, it needs few words (check the jaw-dropping Chelsea Wolfe guest spot on the title track) to do so. In just under 40 minutes, Russian Circles lay to tape the first genuine post-metal masterpiece since Isis’ Panopticon. – Brice Ezell
53. Baths – Obsidian
With titles like “No Eyes”, “Worsening”, and “Earth Death”, Baths‘ Will Wiesenfeld isn’t cagey about tone on his second album of unsettlingly glitchy laptop pop. Obsidian is indeed a classic of sustained bleakness, a despairing monolith in the spirit of Marble Index and Closer, albeit one in which defeats aren’t somberly intoned but softly exhaled through a lump in the throat. Wiesenfeld isn’t your average miserablist with a mic, though; he’s a formalist, and Obsidian is more sonic triumph than confessional purge.
Instead of tapping into the well-worn tradition of leaning on electronics to establish chilliness or isolation, he makes this music breathe and beat irregularly, like a giant body under duress. On “Worsening”, loops are superimposed over each other into polyrhythms and off-time grooves as eerie voices fade in and out, and on “No Past Lives”, the hook consists of sprightly piano parts alternating with a noisy drone. It’s fragile and monstrous in equal measure and the most addictive bummer of the year. – David Bloom
52. Caitlin Rose – The Stand-In
On her third record, the most out-and-out pleasurable album I have heard this year, Caitlin Rose manages the rare feat of presenting a timeless melodic pop album without ever drifting into anachronism. A record that owes as much to the Travelling Wilburys as it does Linda Ronstadt, The Stand-In is remarkably unconcerned with genre, with the general expectation that this Nashville girl would make a commercial country record. Instead, we get what might finally be a genuine expression of that nebulous thing we call “Americana”: a record that eschews boundaries and shoots, simply, for good songs played well.
Opening with a fuzzy guitar riff that would be at home on a Japandroids album and announcing, “the songs I want to hear, they never play”, Rose makes her statement early and often. From the country-rock of “I Was Cruel” and “Dallas” to the irresistible pop of “Only a Clown” and “Menagerie” (among this year’s most persistent earworms, for me), this album has it all. Sharp, playful, and blessed with a voice that rivals Kelly Hogan’s in its expressiveness, its depth of character, Caitlin Rose has arrived. – Stuart Henderson
51. Mount Moriah – Miracle Temple
It’s easy to mistake what Mount Moriah do for country music. They hail from the South and have a front-porch sort of stomp to their rockers, Jenks Miller’s guitar is some viscous mix of dust and sweat, and Heather McEntire’s voice is the kind of clear beauty that can fill a field. And yet, this is too rooted in soul, in roots-rock, in folk, and countless other touchstones to be just one thing, let alone country. Miracle Temple is a brilliant and deeply Southern set of songs that can be as energetic as they can be bittersweet. The local-dive comfort of “Younger Days” leads us into a record that mines place for inspiration and heartache.
Songs like “Eureka Springs” sway and ripple out into space, while “Bright Light” and “Rosemary” tighten up into lean power-pop. The band moves through these dynamic, catchy tunes with patience and confidence, a surprising amount of both, considering this is just their second record. Here, Mount Moriah realizes a fully formed and unique sound, one that might be so hard to pin down because — first and foremost — it is so indescribably good. Intimate yet expansive, tear-stained yet resolute, Miracle Temple is a lot of things at once. But, above them all, it’s a flawless record. – Matthew Fiander
50. SubRosa – More Constant Than the Gods
This year was described as something of a Renaissance year for metal. Not only was good heavy music being released pretty much every week, but there was so much of it, too, from the kinds of young bands that should be finding their footing instead of turning out opuses. While this is certainly true, since we got career-defining albums (Altar of Plagues) and promising first starts in the spotlight (Inter Arma), what went unsaid was that so much of what was released was simply forgettable. Call it the ‘king idiot’ rule: if bands know they can find success recycling the same riff for 12 tracks, they’re probably going to play that riff.
That was the complaint I heard from metalheads about More Constant than the Gods: Where were the riffs? Where was the comfort zone? This is why, barring Teethed Glory and Injury, SubRosa made the best metal record of 2013 because the group incorporated honest-to-god songwriting (gasp!), melody (egad!), and dynamics (heavens no!) into its songs. Rebecca Vernon’s vocals tangle for space with dual violins as they all together reach for the heavens. It proves we, the audience, can receive so much more in music if we’re simply willing to expect it. – Robert Rubsam
49. Los Campesinos! – No Blues
Los Campesinos! have never dipped below six members, but the core of the band has always been the sweet and sour marriage of guitarist Tom’s satisfyingly intricate songwriting and singer Gareth’s caustic, heartfelt lyrics. No Blues isn’t the reverse of 2011’s compellingly bleak Hello Sadness that the title suggests, but it does contain plenty of the band’s trademarked wit, pathos, and hooks. Probably the biggest surprise is when the normally self-deprecating Gareth full-on belts (especially on “As Lucerne/The Low”, and it’s great). It’s not that his voice has changed; he’s just operating at full throttle. The band follows suit. Los Campesinos! have yet to make a bad album, but No Blues might be the first one that feels fully comfortable in its own skin, whether misanthropic or joyous. The Los Campesinos! that made their first few albums are, in many ways, dead. Long live Los Campesinos! – Ian Mathers
48. Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP2
I don’t think anyone was expecting The Marshall Mathers LP 2 to be as good as it is. Eminem is one of the most successful artists in the history of rap, but his latter-day work has been a letdown when weighed against his material of over a decade ago. It turns out that creating a sequel to his most famous album was more than just a marketing gimmick to shatter more sales records. Eminem ever so slightly recaptures the tone of 13 years before. It’s a different album, but Eminem puts his heart into making MMLP2 one of the most personal rap albums in recent years. Who would’ve thought that we would see the day when Eminem makes a record apologizing to his mother? It’s been a fun ride, and MMLP2 is the album that brings Eminem’s career full circle. – Logan Smithson
47. David Bowie – The Next Day
“Here I am, not quite dying”, sings David Bowie on The Next Day‘s lacerating title cut. No shit. Not only is he not dying, Bowie sounds thrillingly alive on the comeback of the year: Bowie’s first album in a decade and his most consistently fine album in three. On a record at turns relentlessly melodic and blisteringly fierce, Bowie reappears to set his world on fire and to deliver his prettiest doomsday songs yet. Menacing and transcendent, the man achieves the vital duality that has long defined his best work — meticulously radiant craft and an unpredictable eccentricity that comes with the freedom that Bowie has always insisted on. And he does it loudly, with turbulent guitars, churning keyboards, and emotional singing. A surprise Bowie album is a major treat. That The Next Day is so brilliant and beautiful is a celebration that adds another remarkable chapter to a storied career. – Steve Leftridge
46. King Krule – 6 Feet Beneath the Moon
As King Krule, 19-year-old Archy Marshall makes bewitchingly dramatic nighttime music, a minimalist stew of jazzy guitar, deep wells of reverb, and his stunning, resonant croon. Before he’s even hit 20, Marshall already has a signature sound, something instantly recognizable and not quite like anything else. 6 Feet Beneath the Moon makes mood its m.o., a grayscale suite of variations on a melancholy tone. But it’s Marshall’s lyrics that pull Moon so high above the ground as he sketches scenes and strings of evocative images with a rapper’s sense for rhythm and a poet’s eye for detail. Keep your eye on this one. – Corey Beasley