Best Albums of 2013

As with any other year, we had a difficult time narrowing the list down from 100+ suggestions to just 25. Through the year of wrecking balls and whatever else pop music had to offer, we survived through it all by having the albums below on repeat.

25 Mount Kimbie – Cold Spring Fault Less Youth

A quieter wandering compared to their last album, Cold Spring Fault Less Youth exposed a polished, even toned and mature side of Mount Kimbie. Transitioning towards more vocal input, as opposed to choppy vocal soundbytes, geared a new orientation and idea to where they’re headed in the future. — Meer Mustafa

24 Danny Brown – Old

It is hard to understate how unusual Danny Brown is to the average music fan: one of the weirdest rappers in the music scene (image or metaphors or laugh, take your pick) has an incredible propensity for generating some of the most creative lyrics and biggest bangers in hip-hop. There have always been many sides, however, to Danny Brown the person, and his third LP Old is a concept album that attempts to shed light on Brown’s persona in a way that XXX never attempted. Brown delivers with gusto, delivering a “production-driven” album packed with lyrical content; from getting mugged as a child for the bread he was buying for his mother to the drug-addled lifestyle that he observed all around him, Brown paints a stunningly dark picture of the suffering of his childhood during the subdued “Side A” of Old. “Side B,” in contrast, delivers some of Brown’s biggest electo-hop bangers yet, as he raps about drowning his past in drug addiction and women in a decidedly-carefree manner. Brown is clearly a tough pill to swallow for many reasons, but his incredible array of tour-ready and lyrically potent songs indicate that he isn’t going anywhere any time soon. — Vivek Raman


On their self-titled debut, FIDLAR, an anagram for “f–k it dog, life’s a risk”, unleashed an album chock full of surfy, garage punk stompers. With the guitars turned up to 11, shouted, often distorted vocals and hyperactive drumming, FIDLAR could not been mistaken for a restrained or meek album. But that’s for all the better, as songs such as “No Waves,” “5 To 9,” and “Stoked And Broke” are infectiously energetic blasts of punk. “Gimmie Something” and “LDA” do find the band downshifting into a somewhat lower gear, with the results still nonetheless stellar. Life may be a risk, but it’s better with FIDLAR in it. — Matthew Horton

22 Death Grips – Government Plates

Following a slew of non-traditional releases and a year of PR that would leave most bands blacklisted from record labels and shows alike, Sacramento, CA trio Death Grips took to their Facebook on November 13th to simultaneously announce and freely release their fourth album, Government Plates. Musically, the album finds Death Grips continuing to tread down new territory: Zach Hill and Andy Morin take to the forefront of the album, sculpting manic, pulsing beats that meld IDM, punk, and noise, while vocalist MC Ride takes a back seat. Instead of his usual in-your-face aggression, Ride’s approach on Government Plates has a more menacing air to it. He lurks in the shadows, blending into the walls of electronic noise as the listener sinks slowly into a state of paranoia, until the perfect moment of attack. Government Plates is an affirmation that Death Grips aren’t making music for the money, fame, or publicity. Their mission is to make art. In fact, Death Grips’ very existence seems to be an artistic statement. Public expectations of what musicians today should, or should not do, have no bearing on their actions. Rather they function as an uninhibited creative unit, aiming to shatter your constructs and expose you to the dark underbelly of society and life in general. This isn’t traditional art; it’s guerrilla warfare on art that has lost its innocence amidst an industry. — Evan Gordon

21 The Knife – Shaking The Habitual

After 7 years, The Knife are back with their 4th and greatest album yet. Shaking The Habitual can best be described as “beautifully strange” with it’s complex, rich synths and strong progression. It is the Knife’s most political, ambitious, accomplished album, but in a strange way it also feels like its most personal: It provides a glimpse into the desires, intellectual enthusiasms and (unsurprisingly dense) reading list guiding one of music’s most shadowy duos. It is a musical manifesto advocating for a better, fairer, weirder world. —Humza Khan

20 Dr. Dog – B-Room
Dr. Dog - B Room album cover

Dr. Dog came back with yet another album this year and I’m sure all Dr. Dog fans couldn’t be happier (including me). I’m not a listener who completely digs when bands change their sound exactly, but Dr. Dog has a collection of albums that have slightly differed in sound with each release, but if you were there with them from the start with Toothbrush, the changes in sound from album to album shouldn’t come as a surprise to you. What I really enjoy about B-Room is that it goes back to the sounds of one of their older albums, We All Belong. Especially, with tracks “Broken Heart,” “Phenomenon,” and “Nellie.” It’s always interesting to hear what obstacles if any bands come across as they are writing songs. B-Room was definitely one of the more perfect fall releases this year. — Yazz Martinez

19 HAIM – Days Are Gone
HAIM - Days Are Gone cover

This year’s favorite trio and one of our top album picks is sister act, Haim. Days Are Gone is definitely an album that goes good at just about anytime of the day. The band’s exposure and recognition from this album is a total understatement. They made it on some of the biggest bills this year including festivals Human Life, Treasure Island Music Festival, and Austin City Limits. That’s also not including the amount of appearances they made on television from Saturday Night Live to Jimmy Kimmel Live. There’s no denying Haim is on track to even bigger things and a band to watch for in the future. — Yazz Martinez

18 Deerhunter – Monomania

Three years after unleashing the genre-affirming indie rock classic Halcyon Digest, Deerhunter have returned with a record that is every bit as invigorating, inspiring, and innovative. On Monomania, Deerhunter distinctly recall classic rock, but they’re not stealing pages from it – they’re cutting up the words and re-arranging them like a ransom note. Bradford Cox has taken his signature biting, autobiographical songwriting and galvanized in the flames of hard, noisy rock and roll, and it’s more affecting here than it’s ever been. Monomania is refreshing, in that it not only affirms Deerhunter’s position at the forefront of indie rock, but it re-assures one that there are still important things to be done with guitars. — Kevin Gravis

17 The National – Trouble Will Find Me

This is an album by The National, so naturally, listening to it will make you emotional. However, it’s less soul-crushing than High Violet, and ends up being way more fun to listen to than anything this unhappy should be. As always, their masterful rock sound just makes everything outside of the music melt away and absorbs you as you listen, making it perfect music to relax and escape the world with. Also, one of the songs is about Dallas. Mitchell Owens

16 Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

For their third album, Vampire Weekend toned down everything. They slowed the crazy tempo that their songs had to something a bit less frantic. They scaled back on the heavy sampling that defined their songs, giving it a much more minimalistic sound. Basically, VW cut out most of the things that made them instantly definable as “pop,” and still managed to create an album full of more amazing pop earworms than any of their previous works, as well as what is probably the best album of the year. — Mitchell Owens

15 DARKSIDE – Psychic

DARKSIDE is made up of 21-year-old producer Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington. The duo’s sound, a mix of dance beats, smooth, effect-laden guitar work, psychedelic production, and aloof vocals, defy the mold of a typical electronic album in 2013. Album opener “Golden Arrow” is a sprawling, 11-minute piece that builds slowly into a foggy dirge of psychedelic house beats, while tracks like “Paper Trails” mold a sound reminiscent of the 80’s, if Can were an 80’s pop band. The musical prowess of the duo is highlighted with the penultimate track, “Greek Light”, which is a sonic realm built for headphones if I’ve ever heard one. The real beauty of Psychic is the space that DARKSIDE creates for the listener, a watery, psychedelic mish-mash of synthesizers, drums, and guitar that will leave your head spinning long after the record stops. — Evan Gordon

14 Blue Hawaii – Untogether
Blue Hawaii - Untogether album coverRaphaelle Standell-Preston and Alex Cowan are a powerfully effective duo. Like their Montrealer peers in Purity Ring, the expert male producer knows exactly how to surround the female singer with enthralling beats and textures all while pushing the vocals to the front — though Standell-Preston’s voice is more introverted and mystique than her Purity Ring counterpart’s, there is no mistaking that the vocal turns are the album’s heart. The music here is dark; Standell-Preston’s lyrics and inflection as well as Cowan’s atmospherics are chilly and defeated. But what makes the album so powerful — and what makes me think I’ll be playing it for years to come — is the inextricable humanity at its core. Underneath the icy atmosphere and below Standell-Preston’s hollowed-out vocals is an aching humanity that is immediately relatable and affecting. Nowhere is this more true than the heartbreaking, acoustic-driven second track, “Try to Be.” — James Pacifico

13 Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe

It’s only appropriate to introduce Dev Hynes as having filled many roles: his past projects include Lightspeed Champion and Test Icicles, his producing or writing merits are linked to Florence and the Machine or Solange. Through the years, it’s no surprise that Cupid Deluxe, only his second release as Blood Orange, showcases some of Hynes’ best work. Amidst the nostalgic disco and 80s R&B that many say channel Prince, Cupid Deluxe is a sequence of tracks where Hynes, featured in a FADER cover story in lieu of the album’s release, shares his experience and personal relationships living in New York City. If teleportation exists, tracks like “It Is What It Is” or “Uncle Ace” will bring you to the city that never sleeps all over again. — Trang Nguyen

12 Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap

When 20 year-old Chicago rapper Chancelor Bennett, AKA Chance the Rapper, dropped his landmark Acid Rap mixtape in late April, internet communities were buzzing with hype, and it’s not hard to see why. The beats draw from acid jazz, soul, funk, and psychedelic music, a delightful reprieve from the typical uninspired drum machine & big bass beats that have saturated rap culture as of late. Chance’s penchant for wordplay (“Lean all on the square / that’s a fuckin’ rhombus”; “Somebody’ll steal daddy’s Rollie / and call it the neighborhood watch”), and spastic delivery make Acid Rap an enjoyable listen and solidify him as one of hip-hop’s most promising up-and-comers. Furthermore, his social media-based promotion also serves as a reminder that in today’s culture, you don’t need to charge money for your album or have a record label to make an impact on the music scene. Acid Rap stands as a truly original and inspiring release, and has left thousands of fans anxious to hear what the rapper has in store for 2014. — Evan Gordon

11 London Grammar – If You Wait

The thick and sultry voice of Hannah Reid from London Grammar can make you melt. Swear. Similar to their prior Metal and Dust EP, the trio’s debut full length If You Wait is an ambient heartthrob of melodic, soothing tracks. The acoustic sound of quiet guitar picks and actual bass drum are excellent for the oozy emotions behind the lyrics of Reid’s songs, and overall the album is a nice selection of powerful vocals, pure instruments and elegant music. — Demir Candas

10 CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe
CHRVCHES - The Bones Of What You Believe album coverOn the heels of massive hype brought on by their Recover EP, CHVRCHES could have easily released a debut album that didn’t exactly meet the lofty expectations of their already converted fans. Fortunately for everyone, the band not only met those expectations, but even surpassed their early EP. The Bones of What You Believe is a fantastic electropop album that marries memorable, yet vague enough lyrics as to relate to nearly anyone with densely packed, yet unobtrusive instrumentation. Standout tracks include the fantastic opener “The Mother We Share,” as well as “Gun,” “Recover,” and “We Sink.” Whether you bought into the early hype or not, The Bones of What You Believe is an album not to be missed. — Matthew Horton

9 Rhye – Woman

“Oooh, make love to me.” So begins the second track from Rhye’s debut, Woman. If nearly any other artist sang that line, I’d cringe. But thanks to Robin Hannibal’s warm, immaculate production and Milosh’s equally pristine, impossibly smooth vocals, the duo pulls it off. The same can be said of the entire album, which is filled with similarly intimate lyrics, lush arrangements replete with strings, brass, piano, and grooving beats, and the subtly powerful voice of Milosh. The latter pulls off a neat trick on the best tracks: his silky vocals are just self-effacing enough and the lyrics just nonspecific enough that it allows the listener to feel comfortable hearing such candid stories. Aside from this and the skillful songwriting and production, the album warrants listen after listen because it remains feather light and never bears down on the listener. It invites you in politely and, in turn, you invite these beautiful songs into your head and heart. — James Pacifico

8 King Krule – 6 Feet Beneath The Moon

With King Krule‘s first full length, he has continued to build on the release of his debut EP. The star of this album is without a doubt, King Krule’s voice. His crooning, thick accented voice, is back by minimal instrumentation leaving songs feeling spacious and vulnerable. It feels like he tries to take this minimal instrumentation and try and make it as loud as possible, at some points he is almost yelling, to the point where he loses control of his pitch and composure. Overall this album is a brilliant first step for an extremely young artist, leaving us dying to find out what is coming next. — Humza Khan

7 James Blake – Overgrown

James Blake‘s sophomore album, Overgrown, starts out with a title track that sounds much like his self-titled debut: there’s Blake’s quivering voice, sparse beats, a layer of fuzz over everything… but then the song grows, and grows, and layers pile up until the whole thing is large and looming. It seems that in addition to the introverted singer/songwriter of his debut album, Blake decided to let his producer and club DJ sides show, and the results are enticing. Rather than another cohesive, minimalist affair, this album works best as a collection of some of the Brit’s most tantalizing, most menacing tracks (and a couple of his weaker tracks, as well.) The best songs here (“Life Round Here,” “Voyeur,” and “Digital Lion,” for example) draw attention with visceral, hair-raising production that’s expertly crafted and precisely layered, with Blake’s lyrics and vocals utilized more as a means to create progression in the songs, rather than to relate stories or emotions. Unfortunately, the propulsive, dynamic nature of what are some of his best beats to date is sometimes at odds with the tame, emotive nature of his lyrics, vocals, and debut album. The dichotomy of DJ/producer and singer/songwriter is interesting, though, and Blake also shows that the two sides can get along exquisitely as in the case of album centerpiece “Retrograde.” — James Pacifico

6 Toro y Moi – Anything In Return
Toro Y Moi - Anything In Return cover

It’s so smooth! Everything about this album is as aesthetically pleasing as possible to me. The electronic tracks create a beautiful atmosphere for every song, and adding Chazwick Bundick’s great lyrics and gorgeously layered vocals on top just makes this album sound perfect. This deserves to be listened to with a very nice pair of headphones while you sit and let the beats carry you away into a groove-filled night. — Mitchell Owens

5 Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories coverDance music’s most famous robotic duo has never done something so clearly out of left-field. Not when they decided to score (and cameo in) the modern Disney reboot of a cult film classic, not when they decided to create Coca-Cola likenesses of themselves (aptly named Daft Cola), and no, not even this Gap commercial. Rather, Daft Punk’s most utterly surprising decision was to make a rare public appearance at Coachella 2013, not to perform, but to oversee the debut of the trailer for Random Access Memories, which astoundingly…featured Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers?

In hindsight, the direction that Daft Punk took for R.A.M shouldn’t have been too surprising: the duo has always maintained that exploring musical avenues is a primary priority. Random Access Memories was, in fact, just that: a star-studded dedication album, one that paid homage to influences as far-reaching and diverse as garage rock, 70s disco, modern psychedelic pop and turn-of-the-century R&B. The result is a wonderful amalgamation of everything pop music over the past sixty years packaged seamlessly into one cohesive whole. After a string of random forays into avenues that hardly suited them, Daft Punk seems to have found the perfect musical sweet spot: nostalgia. — Vivek Ramen

4 Washed Out – Paracosm
Washed Out - Paracosm cover

Washed Out released their second full-length studio album, Paracosm back in August, and while I wish this album had released a bit sooner, it’s arguably one of the best albums that came out this summer. The album name is derived from a documentary Washed Out musician, Ernest Greene, was watching over Henry Darger. Psychologists who were studying people like Darger and their vivd imaginations called those imaginations “paracosms.” What is really neat about the making of Paracosm is that Greene, used over 50 unique and vintage electronic instruments, some as rare as 70 years old. The whole purpose for Greene on Paracosm was to get away from the more heavy sampling he had often used in his previous work. Some of these instruments include Ondes Martenot, Novachord, and Mellotron. Paracosm is strictly nothing but good vibes, whether you’re driving with the windows down, hanging out by the pool, or venturing off into the city. — Yazz Martinez

3 Disclosure – Settle

At the beginning of 2012, the UK underground electronic scene was been in a curiously stagnant state, and it’s easy to understand why. With the Burial-inspired post-dubstep revival waning and the scene’s old guard failing to generate compelling new material, Britain’s fabled reputation for electronic sonic trendsetting somehow fell into the hands of two young brothers from Sussex, who delivered in the most spectacular of ways: by going pop. Disclosure’s explosive arrival culminated in Settle, a soaring dance music experience that drew inspiration from some of the most scattered musical movements of the modern era: Chicago house and UK garage, from post-Baduizm soul to the most cloyingly pop hooks of the 21st century. Settle didn’t need the innovation that British critics were so desperately decrying the lack of, it didn’t matter that its sounds seemed “secondhand.” Settle instead catapulted Disclosure to the forefront of dance music on the wings of pure unadulterated fun, a tour de force with enough accessibility, optimism, and staying power to cement Settle as one of the best debut dance LPs of the past few years. Not bad for a couple of brothers just looking for a good time. — Vivek Raman

2 AlunaGeorge – Body Music
AlunaGeorge - Body Music Cover

AlunaGeorge‘s debut album Body Music measures up to be a big contender amongst the other 2013 releases. A style-defining selection, George Reid’s intricate productions consisting of bending bass notes, vocal chops and dreamy synths pair with Aluna Francis’ warm voice to form this ultra relevant pop album. Tracks like “You Know You Like It” and “Your Drums Your Love” aim to release this ultra thick, UK style electronic style on the listener while other tracks like “Outlines” and “Body Music” slow things down but maintain, if not emphasize, pure emotion in the lyrics and melodies. As far as alt-pop goes, AlunaGeorge is in. — Demir Candas

1 Kanye West – Yeezus
Kanye West - Yeezus album coverBy now, it should be pretty clear that Kanye West has been angry. Angry about the paparazzi hounding him, being rejected by the fashion industry because of (according to him, at least) the color of his skin, or becoming a scapegoat for fame-inspired arrogance, perhaps. What nobody saw coming, however, was how it would manifest in Yeezus, which ended up delivering 41 minutes of the most positively harsh yet groundbreaking rap music in recent memory. Never mind that Kanye practically invented the art of emotional outpouring through hip-hop, or that Yeezus, his least successful seller by far, is reminiscent of a reinvented Exmilitary. What matters most is that Yeezus rejects conformism in a way that Kanye has never been brash enough to attempt, a challenge to musicians and listeners alike to accept some of the most audacious, almost-unlistenable, yet profoundly innovative material to grace the pop landscape. Who else would possibly have the temerity to sample a song about pre-Civil Rights Act lynchings and turn it into a divorce-inspired festival banger that compels the crowd to despondently scream along, “We could have been somebody…”, or to potentially bastardize his only pre-808s influenced song with harsh, robotic samples and a glorious yet completely out-of-place hook?

Yeezus, however, is about more than innovation, despair, heartbreak, or frustrations. It is also, at the end of the day, an utter rejection of the forces that compel one to abandon one’s dreams; a celebration of aspirations, if you will. As fans desperately implore for the return of the Kanye of old, West has perhaps offered a cryptically definitive answer: despite tribulations and frustrations throughout his career, Kanye the optimist has not disappeared. — Vivek Raman