Under the Radar’s Top 125 Albums of 2013

Dec 23, 2013
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Either 2013 was just a really, really great year for music or we're a bit indecisive. Whatever the case, instead of our traditional Top 100 albums list this year we present the Top 125 albums of 2013. How did we arrive at such a massive list? Twenty-two of our regular writers and editors (including our two publishers) each submitted their personal Top 45 albums of 2013 lists and then those were all combined and calculated together to form this master list. Then we took the Top 10 from the initial vote and did a second vote to determine our #1 album and the order of the Top 10. For an album to make the Top 125 it had to be picked by at least three writers. And every writer's #1 album of the year is represented somewhere on the list.

This was a year of spectacular comebacks (Suede, My Bloody Valentine, David Bowie, Primal Scream), exciting debuts (CHVRCHES, Foxygen, HAIM, Younghusband), and fantastic new albums from reliable mainstays (Vampire Weekend, The National, Camera Obscura, Foals). Read on and let us know if we missed something or you otherwise have thoughts on this list.

1

Vampire Weekend

Modern Vampires of the City

XL

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by Vampire Weekend any more. After all, album number three for the NYC outfit was just another all-conquering, unit-shifting, superlative-collecting, chart-topping hit, wasn’t it? But this time something was different. In Modern Vampires of the City, the focus shifted from preppy Paul Simon-aspiring trinkets to escalating indie pop compositions played with chandelier frailty. Drenched with nuanced melodies that improved spin by spin, Vampire Weekend conjured up a magnificent aural treasure trove that felt timeless and utterly irresistible. How very unsurprising of them. By Billy Hamilton

2

David Bowie

The Next Day

ISO/Columbia

Back in January, a paparazzi snapped a photo of David Bowie carrying a shopping bag in the streets of New York. The image of the pale-looking man in a flat cap seemed to confirm persistent rumors that Bowie had not only retired, but was also in poor health. Two months later, Bowie released a new single that not even the NSA saw coming. The affecting video for “Where Are We Now” depicted Bowie as frail fellow reflecting on his past. It seemed as if the decrepit old man in the video was offering a last will and testament. Turns out, Bowie was just toying with us. The singer’s wan appearance was just the latest in a long line of personas because The Next Day is not the work of a sickly old man. From the very start, Bowie’s urgent voice roars like an afterburner. Careful not to singe your ears. The Next Day may not boast much in the way of the innovation that marked Bowie’s golden years, but it's a pleasingly varied record. “If You Can See Me” is almost prog rock. “Heat” owes much to the influence of Scott Walker. And “Valentine's Day” has a killer twist in the lyric and a deadly guitar riff to match. But it’s the late-in-the-batting order songs such as “I’d Rather be High,” “Boss of Me,” “Dancing Out in Space,” and “How Does the Grass Grow”—all of which nod toward his earlier musical styles—that make this Bowie’s best album since Lodger. Bowie’s surprise return (a masterstroke of publicity) served to enhance his mystique. He remains as unknowable as Dylan, but this year he revealed that he’s still younger at heart than most of his contemporaries. By Stephen Humphries

3

Foxygen

We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

Jagjaguwar

We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic is loaded with the audible tradition of California psychedelic pop, heaping decades of influence into a comprehensive package. Foxygen proves that polishing old sounds for a new generation is worth the effort—this record comes off fresh and interesting while maintaining the warmth and soul of the vinyl era. Foxygen score a sunny stroll through Haight-Ashbury that is both nostalgic and charming. By Cody Ray Shafer

4

John Grant

Pale Green Ghosts

Partisan

On Pale Green Ghosts, John Grant sings about subjects such as the torment of growing up gay, the suicide of a transvestite friend, getting ditched by the love of his life, and contracting HIV. It’s one of the most fun albums of 2013. Credit Grant’s dark humor, expressed through quotable one-liners, for giving Pale Green Ghosts plenty of sugar to make the medicine go down. In “Ernest Borgnine,” for example, Grant laconically recalls his diagnosis with HIV: “Doc ain’t lookin’ at me, says I got the disease/Now what did you expect, you spent your life on your knees.” The album’s electronic textures are far removed from the 1970s soft rock of Grant’s first solo album, Queen of Denmark, or, indeed, the organic art rock of Grant’s superb former band The Czars. Producer Biggi Veira from Icelandic electronic group GusGus renders Grant’s latest tunes as colorful as the aurora borealis. Sinéad O’Connor lends empathic backing vocals to three songs. But it’s Grant’s booming baritone—of the most striking voices in music today—that makes Pale Green Ghosts linger like an apparition long after it’s finished playing. By Stephen Humphries

5

Arcade Fire

Reflektor

Merge

The calamitous build up to Arcade Fire’s fourth album came across as an intolerable PR stunt that disguised a curious lack of confidence in the end product. But Win Butler and co. needn’t have worried. This sonically progressive double LP pushed them way beyond the anthemic indie-jangling that has defined them; pulling on the voluptuous production prowess of James Murphy to create a dense, dancefloor-friendly record of biblically non-Arcade Fire proportions. Brash, bold and—at times—funky as hell, Reflektor is the sound of a band letting loose in the most majestic fashion. By Billy Hamilton

6

CHVRCHES

The Bones of What You Believe

Glassnote

In January, when Glasgow synthpop trio CHVRCHES began to sell out its first U.S. shows well in advance of their March dates, it was on the strength of only two released tracks, the staggering “Lies” and the bittersweet “The Mother We Share.” While those March performances revealed a band that had room to grow as a live act, the rest of the songs in its set pointed toward a solid forthcoming debut LP. CHVRCHES satisfied high expectations with The Bones of What You Believe, an album stacked with sky-gliding vocal melodies and ecstatic synth instrumentation, offset by singer/lyricist Lauren Mayberry’s Glaswegian bite and romantic gloom. By Chris Tinkham

7

HAIM

Days Are Gone

Columbia

These three L.A. sisters made indie pop and R&B seem like they’ve always naturally mixed. “Forever” scratched an ’80s-pop itch that few new acts can properly reach, and you couldn’t hear “The Wire” without imagining your clapping hands in the air joining everyone else’s at their show. Days Are Gone showed how catchy a song can be with minimal instrumentation and voices that care if you’re coming to the party. By Hays Davis

8

Daft Punk

Random Access Memories

Columbia/Daft Life Limited

The enigmatic French duo returned after eight years with their grooviest record to date. Setting aside their futuristic electronic aesthetic for a retro disco and ’80s-inspired sound—Giorgio Moroder makes a central cameo—it’s a gateway Daft Punk record that even listeners who hated all their previous albums can get behind. (And its smash hit, “Get Lucky,” is the rare mainstream single we actually don’t mind hearing on radio once per hour.) By Austin Trunick

9

The National

Trouble Will Find Me

4AD

Let’s face it: The National’s sixth studio album was never going to be anything less than excellent. For over a decade, Matt Beringer and his melancholic rock troupe have been delivering their ornate brand of macabre melodies with a consistency few can match. Trouble Will Find Me may not have melted hearts in the way The Boxer once did, but it is still crammed with the soaring crescendos and introspective lyrical themes that epitomise a band that never seems to underachieve. In a year where so many big-hitters made returns to form, The National were merely their reliable selves. By Billy Hamilton

10

Camera Obscura

Desire Lines

4AD

This Scottish troupe’s nostalgic, romantic Desire Lines boasts their best hooks since 2006’s now-classic Let’s Get Out of This Country; Tracyanne Campbell’s voice can break or warm your heart with equal potency. This is one of the most consistent bands in the business, which testifies to how great Desire Lines must be to stand out among the rest. By Austin Trunick

11

My Bloody Valentine

m b v

Self-Released

Beyoncé, shmeyoncé: My Bloody Valentine put out the surprise album of the year. With little advance warning, they released their 21-years-in-the-making follow-up to shoegaze’s most beloved masterpiece. It may not have lived up to everybody’s unrealistically high expectations—and, after such a long wait, what could?—but once people accepted there will be only one Loveless, they still had one of 2013’s best new records to enjoy. By Austin Trunick

12

Kurt Vile

Wakin on a Pretty Daze

Matador

Who says electric guitar has to sound aggressive, fast, or angry? Kurt Vile’s riffs wash over you like melted butter. Intricate guitar picking melds into Vile’s soothing vocals, creating a calming buzz. The title track begins the album with a melodic trance over nine minutes long, and everything that follows glides by just as easily. Never has tuning in felt so much like blissing out. By Danielle Sills

13

Jagwar Ma

Howlin

Marathon Artists

The Australian duo of Jono Ma and Gabriel Winterfield has been making a splash with a series of loose-fit grooves that borrow heavily from the flowered-up floors of Madchester. Their debut album Howlin continues to burrow into the early ’90s baggy aesthetic, delivering luminously lit melodies led by anagogic lyrical structures. There’s a nod to the likes of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, but to dismiss the pair as pure plagiarists would be unkind; there’s an educated ear to this record that runs from the acid house chow of “Four” to the ethereal dream pop gaze of “Backwards Berlin.” Early singles “The Throw” and “Come Save Me” are album showstoppers, each a livewire of groove-riddled retrograde executed with a modern twist. But the aerated rush of “That Loneliness” is just as enticing, built on sparse guitar jangles and quick-stepping percussion; and slouching dreamscape “Did You Have To” is an effortless, palm-tree swaying lilt of harmonies and chiming keys. By Billy Hamilton

14

Willis Earl Beal

Nobody Knows

Hot Charity/XL

Aside from possessing a voice straight out of Motown, Willis Earl Beal is a man with relentless talent and good taste. Nobody Knows is at times deeply melancholic, but resolute. It’s full of impeccable artistry and slick production. The album’s opener, “Wavering Lines,” is a haunting showcase of Beal’s powerful voice, but it’s on tracks like “Too Dry to Cry” that his gritty soul shines through. By Cody Ray Shafer

15

Foals

Holy Fire

Warner Bros.

With Holy Fire, Foals reveals a band adept at carving out arc and terrain in its music, and demonstrates a big step forward with a newfound coherence. Each track thoughtfully develops with strong drive, every layer of sound playing a role in concentrating and directing the energy to its resolution. “Inhaler,” the first single from the album, is about as big as the album gets, with its post-prog aggression. And album closer “Moon” may be a long way from the start in terms of intensity, but it maintains the industrial feel of the album. By Michele Yamamoto

16

Laura Marling

Once I Was an Eagle

Ribbon

The lyric sheet inside Laura Marling’s fourth album reads like a book of poetry. Marling has left skin on these words. On “Master Hunter,” she sings, “You let men into your bed/Do they not know you well?/They can’t get into my head/They don’t have a hope in hell.” Once I was an Eagle is filled with bruising confessions of this sort, their immediacy heightened by the way legendary producer Ethan Johns places Marling’s voice front and center of these sparse recordings. At times Marling sings in a winsome high voice; at others her voice lowers to a growl. Her varied acoustic guitar playing—recently praised by Jimmy Page—is accompanied by a light garnish of percussion, cello, organ, and drones. Result? The finest album to date by the poet laureate of British folk music. By Stephen Humphries

17

Outfit

Performance

Double Denim

Performance captures the best elements of Outfit’s dark New Wave influences and molds them into a fantastically consistent album. It’s moody but lush, avoiding the synth trap of glittery noise while popping in and out of verses like a lighthouse beacon. Songs feel like they fight against themselves, as poppy dance tunes are littered with dissonant guitars and volume-pedal motions with opposing tempos. The experience is one that demands dancing, whether it is on a crowded dance floor, or a significantly less populated apartment at 3 a.m. Perfect, either way. By Cody Ray Shafer

18

Trentemøller

Lost

In My Room

Anders Trentemøller’s musical talents were long since proven by his pre-2013 body of work. His latest, Lost, is a testament to his knack at finding the perfect collaborator for any song. Low, Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino, Sune Rose Wagner of The Raveonettes, Jonny Pierce of The Drums, Ghost Society, and Lower Dens all make cameo appearances and elevate his atmospheric electronica to new levels. By Austin Trunick

19

Deerhunter

Monomania

4AD

Monomania is light-years removed from the epicurean nuances of Deerhunter’s breakout 2010 album Halcyon Digest. While Halcyon swapped in ethereal texture and gossamer reverb as devices to color Bradford Cox’s nostalgic odes to wasted youth, Monomania cuts to sheer, bone-marrow-rattling guitar lacerations, all savage paeans to finding beauty in the discarded detritus of culture. As Cox sermonizes contemptuously on the queasy clarion opener “Neon Junkyard,” “Neon dust puts color in the blood/Call upon the words to speak,” he summons his words as if he’s a conduit from the collective spirits of Marc Bolan, Bo Diddley, R.E.M.’s Monster, and Leadbelly, touchstones which are Scotch-taped together into one hell of a Frankenstein on this superb album. By John Everhart

20

Savages

Silence Yourself

Matador

Rather than mining their home country's rich rock heritage, 2013’s darlings of the U.K.'s indie press pull their energy from the seething, sex-charged sonics of acts like The Birthday Party and Suicide. Their debut LP, Silence Yourself, combines the disarming thrum of their live appearances with a studio-born subtlety that showcases an ear for nuance. But this is no easy listen. Singer Jehnny Beth’s moribund tones are led by a roar of serrated guitars and the kind of barbarous percussion that never seems to let up. From the opening notes of “Shut Up” the onslaught is relentless: “Husbands” pulverizes, “City’s Full” howls, and “No Face” screeches. This is anarchic, itching punk at its most primal, most belligerent. In their pre-release press spiel, the band are at pains to state that these 11 tracks are best heard loud—in fact, it’s the only way to hear them. The depth and ferocity of sound found on “I Am Here” needs decibels to deliver its full aural assault. Background filler these songs are not: each cut is intended to rattle bones from the floor up. By Billy Hamilton

21

Neko Case

The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

ANTI-

Two themes rear their heads in Neko Case’s songwriting: a deft touch when it comes to showing us the icky, corporeal aspects of life and a fondness for externalizing internal turmoil, whether expressing baser desires through another’s thoughts or projecting them onto the natural world. On The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, these tried-and-true tendencies emerge—but the album still represents a significant thematic shift for Case. The protagonists on Harder don’t push themselves into the physical world; they imagine what it might be like to abandon it altogether. She silently observes (but aches inside for) a mother abusively silencing her child on “Honolulu;” on “Night Still Comes,” she's trying to shed the burden of a body—but doing so by imploring the forest to swallow her whole, becoming an “arboreal feast.” Throughout her career, Case has positioned herself as the voice of the voiceless: women, murderers, and other folks on the fringe of society, animals, tornados. While Harder doesn’t suggest giving up this fight to be heard, it encourages the listener to think about the fight in a different way—by accepting shortcomings, recognizing the narrowness of socially-constructed paths, and starting to rise above it all. By Susannah Young

22

Luke Temple

Good Mood Fool

Secretly Canadian

Here We Go Magic’s Luke Temple has crafted a soul-inflected love letter to his icons on his sublime new solo album, Good Mood Fool. The record kicks off with “Hard Working Hand,” which for a few fleeting seconds comes across as a bizarro futuristic riff on The Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra,” before Temple’s honeyed vocals kick in over subtle funk beats and staccato synth stabs. The mood becomes much darker on “Terrified Witness,” as Temple recounts the horror of Hiroshima, eerily intoning, “When that light comes falling/You’re gonna be an x-ray, baby.” The whole of Good Mood Fool is pervaded with a sense of apocalyptic dread, yet Temple never wallows. He gloriously and lovingly nods to musical heroes Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, and Miles Davis while steadfastly remaining forward-thinking. While referencing horrors both recent and distant, Temple is acutely aware that music can’t change the world. But on a record this compelling, it certainly can redeem, heal, and ultimately galvanize, providing an aural light that’s downright irresistible. By John Everhart

23

Suede

Bloodsports

INgrooves/Fontana

Suede returned from an 11-year drought of new material without any rust; on Bloodsports, they sound totally rejuvenated. Brett Anderson’s vocal work is as brazen as ever, and the fuzzed-out guitar tones will remind listeners of the days of their debut and Dog Man Star. Calling it a comeback belittles how good this album really is; it stands up strong alongside the band’s original output. By Austin Trunick

24

The Knife

Shaking the Habitual

Mute

News flash: if The Knife doesn’t freak you out, you’re not listening hard enough. Clocking in at an impressive 90 minutes, the Swedish duo’s Silent Shout follow-up is interwoven with industrial streaks, otherworldly tones, and haunting tonal experiments, all designed to fly in the face of consumerism, capitalism, and male-dominated hierarchy. Enriching, but decidedly uneasy listening. By Laura Studarus

25

Jon Hopkins

Immunity

Domino

Jon Hopkins’ latest instrumental work is loosely a concept album about a single night out on the town. The first half of the record is a rave up; the second half is a chill down. As such, Immunity starts out as electronic dance music that overloads the cortex with its pell mell pace and neon, strobe-effect keyboards. Its textures aren't entirely digital. Opening track “We Disappear” manipulates the sampled sounds of a firework display, a rattling window, and a salt shaker. Hopkins’ love of classical music comes to the fore when the EDM gives way to ECM-inspired piano music. The 10-minute title track features wordless, elegiac vocals by King Creosote, Hopkins’ collaborative partner on last year’s outstanding Diamond Mine album. You won't soon forget this night out. By Stephen Humphries

26

Local Natives

Hummingbird

Frenchkiss/Infectious

Back when it was released in January, Local Natives’ sophomore LP Hummingbird already felt like a contender for record of the year. A stunning sonic concoction of washed-out orchestration and sparkling melodies, the L.A. outfit produced a gargantuan, wonderfully engrossing album that put them on par with The National as crafters of tear-stained tunes. Even today—almost one year on from its release—the scale of ambition seeping from the crevasses of every track continues to astonish. This is one record you simply need to come back to. By Billy Hamilton

27

Caveman

Caveman

Fat Possum

This New York five-piece’s self-titled sophomore album sounds like the next logical step from 2011’s CoCo Beware. Much of the same vibe is present. Keyboards set a lush backdrop to the easygoing vocals on “Ankles.” “Pricey” offers occasional slashing guitar to offset the instrumental atmospherics and falsetto vocals. And “Where’s the Time” begins with a simple melodic vocal and a bass line that seems to be coming from far away, and slowly over the course of four minutes, the instrumentation crescendos to a shimmering haze that surrounds the vocals and lift the song heavenward. A noisy guitar finally cuts through for the song’s final 30 seconds. What Caveman does, it does well, and its sophomore album hits all the right notes. By Frank Valish

28

London Grammar

If You Wait

Metal & Dust/Columbia

With songs comprised of delicate cobwebs of keys, guitar, and vocalist Hannah Reid’s soprano slur, the London-based trio capture the fragile emotional state of youth. The chorus of single “Wasting My Young Years” hangs on the heart-wrenching promise, “I’ve heard it takes some time to get it right,” but for all their introspection, it seems like London Grammar are already surprisingly close to nailing it. By Laura Studarus

29

Kanye West

Yeezus

Def Jam

Kanye West is mad as hell, and he’s not taking it anymore, at least if Yeezus is any indication. What seemed at first an anti-pop detour in West’s career, Yeezus sparked a national conversation about race, fashion, the definition of l conversation about race, fashioKardashian is secretly a cultural icon. But that conversation probably wouldn’t have happened had Yeezus not been a towering album of artistic rage, from the laser-blasting “On Sight” to the minimalist fury of “New Slaves” to the throwback soul of “Bound 2.” As a statement, Yeezus is lean, mercilessly edited (something more rap albums should explore), slyly funny and wonderfully pissed off. Wherever the discussion that West has started ends up, Yeezus is one hell of a first volley. By Ryan E.C. Hamm

30

Julianna Barwick

Nepenthe

Dead Oceans

Sometimes, it’s nice to be reminded that music can simply be moving and beautiful, something designed to tap into that deeply human need to have hope and to be understood. Made up almost entirely of sung sounds, not lyrics, Julianna Barwick’s music does this. And with Nepenthe, she’s released a towering statement of hope. Songs like “The Harbinger,” “Labyrinthine” and “Adventurer of the Family” weave voices upon voices (overdubs of Barwick’s voice) with such aching poignancy, it’s as if the album is reminding all of us that hard things happen but there’s still wonder and beauty to be found behind the pain. It all sounds awfully heady for music to accomplish, but in the end, that’s really what any of us wants art to do—a challenge to our isolation and pain, to know we’re not alone and that someone wants to show us a way out. By Ryan E.C. Hamm

31

Still Corners

Strange Pleasures

Sub Pop

The title of Still Corners’ sophomore album reflects the way the band saw their sound re-shaping as they were composing these tracks. While the first album was engagingly cinematic, Strange Pleasures boosted the music’s emotional sway, and showed off Tessa Murray’s broadened vocal range. It’s the rare sequel which improves on the original. By Austin Trunick

32

Small Black

Limits of Desire

Jagjaguwar

Moving from layered haze purveyors to emotive powerhouses, Small Black has landed at the top of the chillwave graduating class with sophomore album, Limits of Desire. Employed with a starry-eyed exuberance, their idealized synth pop glitters with a coming-of-age wonder. An album of anthems for both the year and the ages. By Laura Studarus

33

Tegan and Sara

Heartthrob

Warner Bros.

When Tegan Quin first described this album to us way back in 2012, she joked that it would be an album listeners could connect to, “just like Ace of Base.” It might not have been the most serious statement, but she was definitely on to something: Heartthrob is the duo’s slickest, most approachable pop album yet, and the Quin sisters’ highest-charting. By Austin Trunick

34

Shout Out Louds

Optica

Merge

Bigger, richer, and more fun than its predecessor, Optica drips with hyperactive lyrics, icy synths, and string arrangements that frontman Adam Olenius giddily described to Under the Radar as “like warm mayonnaise.” The Swedish five-piece still hasn’t mastered the art of the broken heart, but rarely is romantic misery this danceable. By Laura Studarus

35

of Montreal

Lousy With Sylvianbriar

Polyvinyl

It’s safe to say of Montreal’s 12th studio album didn’t scale the giddy heights of the band’s more decorated long-players. But that wasn’t really the point. Stripped down to just organic instruments, Lousy With Sylvianbriar shone a spotlight on Kevin Barnes’ songwriting craft, rather than any bedazzling electro-stimulants. Awash with tender guitar strums and bare naked narratives, this was another remarkable achievement for a band—and a man—that seems to love proving the doubters wrong. By Billy Hamilton

36

Arctic Monkeys

AM

Domino

Arctic Monkeys take the hints of rock star swagger evident in 2011’s Suck It and See, infuse them with a heavy dose of urban sensuality, and emerge with AM, their most accomplished album to date. Smoky blues-rock riffs, R&B rhythms, and Alex Turner’s striking lyricism combine to create an album that’s subtly revolutionary in its genre-melding. By Kate Bennett

37

Chelsea Wolfe

Pain is Beauty

Sargent House

Chelsea Wolfe airs a host of demons on her fourth album, Pain is Beauty. It isn’t always an easy listen—Wolfe’s haunted musings are issued from behind a wall of string-laced reverb and percussion. But the Los Angeles-based musical alchemist delivers exactly what she promises, allowing the promise of healing to filter through even the darkest of moments. By Laura Studarus

38

Midlake

Antiphon

ATO

Midlake bid farewell to its lead singer and principal songwriter, Tim Smith, while recording a follow-up to 2010’s The Courage of Others. They had to throw away years’ worth of work, but the remaining members stepped up and composed a stellar, rock-infused replacement LP. Few bands survive the loss of a key member; even fewer bounce back with one of the best albums in their discography. Antiphon isn’t so much a departure for Midlake, but the next step in the band’s evolution. By Austin Trunick

39

Girls Names

The New Life

Slumberland

After a surf-pop debut that left the band so dissatisfied they named it Dead to Me, Northern Irish quartet Girls Names hit back with The New Life. Its 10 darkly atmospheric songs hark back to the sparse gloom of ’80s goth rock, but with a very modern energy. Pensive and powerful. By Kate Bennett

40

Younghusband

Dromes

Sonic Cathedral

Dromes, the debut album from English band Younghusband, is an ethereal gem in the current sea of cookie-cutter psych bands. Younghusband wrap their lush vocals, swirling keys and quavering guitars in a shroud of mournful melody and noise, resulting in a record situated somewhere between dream-pop and shoegaze. Psychedelic pop perfection. By Kate Bennett

41

Phoenix

Bankrupt!

Glassnote

The French quartet may have named their fifth studio album Bankrupt!, but the title should be read with a Gallic chuckle rather than an admission that the creative well has run dry. A pinch of ’70s funk and a large smear of electro pop weirdness, this is the festival fevered dream 2013 needed. By Laura Studarus

42

Big Black Delta

Big Black Delta

Masters of Bates

Taking a step away from the group Mellowdrone, Los Angeles’ master of synth Jonathan Bates has set out on his own as Big Black Delta. Typical of Bates’ work, the music is synth-heavy with solid pop construction, though it never shies away from throwing in a twist. Bates pulls inspiration from pop, rock, dance, industrial, blues, and just about anything else he can work in. By Michele Yamamoto

43

Anna Calvi

One Breath

Domino

It’s difficult for any artist to follow up a highly-acclaimed debut; the massive amount of praise heaped on Anna Calvi’s Mercury Prize and BRIT Award-nominated debut was worthily earned. But, what next? The singer and guitarist put her listeners’ high anticipation temporarily out of mind and delivered a confident, and, daresay, more adventurous sophomore record. By Austin Trunick

44

Cults

Static

Columbia

With Static, Cults have served up another sweet milkshake of kitsch and cacophony, blending Phil Spector girl-group tropes, vintage R&B, and ’50s diner roller-skate flavors with just enough underlying harshness to keep it north of saccharine. “I Can Hardly Make You Mine” is the showpiece, delivering the sweetness in the Motown bounce of each verse, and pairing it with churning modern electronics as each chorus takes flight. Show up for hooks to satisfy any sweet tooth, and keep coming back for molar-grinding caffeination. Teeth beware. By J. Pace

45

Cut Copy

Free Your Mind

Modular/Loma Vista

Cut Copy play trip-sitter on gradually progressing expansions of consciousness in the form of easily-digestible pop music. It's not necessarily a reinvention of their sound, but there's nothing wrong with sticking to something that works. Free Your Mind is brimming with liberating hooks and an unrelenting cosmic force that playfully hovers over the persistence of its grooves. It starts off as an unassuming and cleverly-structured pop record, but evolves into a more meditative endeavor—without missing a beat of the fun. The penultimate "Walking In the Sky" is Cut Copy's nirvana, a blissful retreat into enlightenment following an album's worth of ascending pop mastery. By Cody Ray Shafer

46

Parquet Courts

Light Up Gold

What's Your Rupture?/Dull Tolls

On Light Up Gold, Brooklyn’s Parquet Courts spin Swell Maps-esque ramshackle, Fall-cribbed torque, and Television-tinged angularity into an atomic Molotov cocktail. The record’s headlong rush conjures pot-addled anomie (“Stoned and Starving”), millennial apathy (“Careers in Combat”), and the ennui endemic to working an insipid nine-to-five job (“Yonder is Closer to the Heart”). But what’s most remarkable about this album is how timeless it sounds, evocative of early Pavement’s enchanted fuzz box 45s and Malkmus and Co.’s slanted cultivation of enigma. By John Everhart

47

Primal Scream

More Light

First International

After 2006’s retro-styled Riot City Blues and 2008’s restrained Beautiful Future, Primal Scream’s sophisticated and experimental More Light is a return to the band’s earlier styles and a return to form. It kicks off with the sprawling, nine-minute “2013,” a radical, politically-charged blast of rock and roll; it’s a grand callback to the band’s ballsy, Screamadelica-era psychedelia. By Austin Trunick

48

The Besnard Lakes

Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO

Jagjaguwar

Worst album title of the year. Fortunately, The Besnard Lakes more than redeems itself with the music on its fourth, and best, album. Husband and wife Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas take turns at the microphone to create something that might be crudely described as “Brian Wilson goes shoegaze.” The key to the Montreal band’s sound: dynamic arrangements. On tracks such as “46 Satires”—which includes the year’s most celestial guitar solo—the music rises and falls, pushes and pulls, expands and contracts. The music exudes a joyous rapture. Listen to this album and marvel at how the world around you seems to brighten during its 48 minutes. By Stephen Humphries

49

Young Dreams

Between Places

Modular

Young Dreams’ debut LP certainly wore its influences on its sleeve. Awash with multi-layered melodic swells, the record undoubtedly mined the same symphonic pop sphere as Animal Collective and Beach Boys. Yet, for all its feel good simplicity, Between Places was founded on the Norwegian ensemble’s deep architectural craft, weaving a dizzying entanglement of instruments into some of the year’s most uplifting and ambitious earworms. Indie pop in 2013 didn’t get much more luscious than this. By Billy Hamilton

50

When Saints Go Machine

Infinity Pool

!K7

Infinity Pool is just as deep and bottomless a record as its title suggests. Layered, textural synths and hollow, hip-hop-indebted backbeats are the calling card of this Danish four-piece; while the band’s sound here is as chaotically multifaceted as ever, it also represents some of their most cohesive and comprehensible music to date. Infinity Pool contains some of the most immediately accessible and infallibly addictive songs that the band have ever produced—the record is full of wonky, glistening pop anthems. “Iodine” pounds relentlessly forwards with increasing gravitas, while “System of Unlimited Love” is allowed to sit back in its urbane groove. It’s a record built for the festival crowd, and its choruses are designed to be sung en masse. That said, we shouldn’t mistake its assertiveness for jubilance—if there is a certain optimism, then it’s refracted through the band’s unique lens before it reaches the listener. By Sam Cleeve

51

Mikal Cronin

MCII

Merge

52

Washed Out

Paracosm

Sub Pop

53

Atoms for Peace

AMOK

XL

54

Janelle Monáe

The Electric Lady

Bad Boy/Wondaland/Atlantic

55

Snakadaktal

Sleep in the Water

Liberation

56

MGMT

MGMT

Columbia

57

Frightened Rabbit

Pedestrian Verse

Atlantic/Canvasback

58

Disclosure

Settle

PMR

59

Charli XCX

True Romance

IAMSOUND

60

Waxahatchee

Cerulean Salt

Don Giovanni

61

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Push The Sky Away

Bad Seed Ltd.

62

Blood Orange

Cupid Deluxe

Domino

63

Telekinesis

Dormarion

Merge

64

James Blake

Overgrown

Republic

65

Postiljonen

Skyer

Best Fit

66

Bill Callahan

Dream River

Drag City

67

The Love Language

Ruby Red

Merge

68

The Flaming Lips

The Terror

Warner Bros.

69

Daughter

If You Leave

Glassnote

70

Queens of the Stone Age

...Like Clockwork

Matador

71

Elvis Costello and the Roots

Wise Up Ghost

Blue Note

72

Young Galaxy

Ultramarine

Paper Bag

73

FUZZ

FUZZ

In the Red

74

The Mary Onettes

Hit the Waves

Labrador

75

Smith Westerns

Soft Will

Mom + Pop

76

Ty Segall

Sleeper

Drag City

77

Wild Nothing

Empty Estate EP

Captured Tracks

78

Neon Neon

Praxis Makes Perfect

Lex

79

Phosphorescent

Muchacho

Dead Oceans

80

The Men

New Moon

Sacred Bones

81

Volcano Choir

Repave

Jagjaguwar

82

The Dodos

Carrier

Polyvinyl

83

Goldfrapp

Tales of Us

Mute

84

Pet Shop Boys

Electric

x2

85

Crocodiles

Crimes of Passion

Frenchkiss

86

Sebadoh

Defend Yourself

Joyful Noise

87

Okkervil River

The Silver Gymnasium

ATO

88

Joanna Gruesome

Weird Sister

Slumberland

89

DIANA

Perpetual Surrender

Jagjaguwar

90

The Child of Lov

The Child of Lov

Domino

91

Fuck Buttons

Slow Focus

ATP

92

Moderat

II

Mute/Monkeytown

93

Speedy Ortiz

Major Arcana

Carpark

94

Weekend

Jinx

Slumberland

95

Tim Hecker

Virgins

Kranky/Paper Bag

96

Cheatahs

Extended Plays

Wichita

97

Rose Elinor Dougall

Future Vanishes EP

You

98

Connan Mockasin

Caramel

Mexican Summer

99

The Haxan Cloak

Excavation

Tri Angle

100

TOY

Join the Dots

Heavenly/[PIAS] America

101

Chance the Rapper

Acid Rap

Self-Released

102

Nine Inch Nails

Hesitation Marks

Columbia

103

Boards of Canada

Tomorrow's Harvest

Warp

104

Caitlin Rose

The Stand-In

ATO

105

Justin Timberlake

The 20/20 Experience

RCA

106

Danny Brown

Old

Fool's Gold

107

Run the Jewels

Run the Jewels

Fool's Gold

108

Lorde

Pure Heroine

Lava/Republic

109

Low

The Invisible Way

Sub Pop

110

Scout Niblett

It's Up to Emma

Drag City

111

Youth Lagoon

Wondrous Bughouse

Fat Possum

112

BRAIDS

Flourish // Perish

Arbutus

113

Julia Holter

Loud City Song

Domino

114

Ex Cops

True Hallucinations

Other Music/Fat Possum

115

Sky Ferreira

Night Time, My Time

Capitol

116

Summer Camp

Summer Camp

[PIAS] America/Moshi Moshi

117

Yo La Tengo

Fade

Matador

118

The Field

Cupid's Head

Kompakt

119

Murray A. Lightburn

MASS:LIGHT

Ting Dun

120

Poliça

Shulamith

Mom + Pop

121

The Stepkids

Troubadour

Stones Throw

122

AlunaGeorge

Body Music

Vagrant

123

Moonface

Julia With Blue Jeans On

Jagjaguwar

124

Nils Frahm

Spaces

Erased Tapes

125

Yamantaka // Sonic Titan

UZU

Suicide Squeeze

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Tim
December 23rd 2013
4:28pm

Iron and wine?

Dickmodel
December 23rd 2013
5:22pm

You have compiled an impressive list. But it’s kind of ridiculous how few rap albums you’ve included. I read a lot of very well curated and well respected best albums lists, and they all seem to include WAY more hip hop. Case in point - and I think this is the most glaring omission -  you should’ve at least included Pusha T’s album.

Ed
December 23rd 2013
7:59pm

“Big TV” should be there…

Matt
December 23rd 2013
11:27pm

Where is Sigur Ros, Earl Sweatshirt, Pusha T, or Deafheaven??

Patrick Blackburn
December 24th 2013
12:27am

You gave Sky Ferreira 4 of 10 stars…surprised to see it here. And how in the world is Naked & Famous not on this list???

Caitlin
December 24th 2013
1:03am

WHAT?!? The Lone Bellow totally got snubbed….come on!

Robert
December 24th 2013
7:00am

Gary Numan’s Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind)?!?

MG
December 24th 2013
11:06am

Here are a couple I think could have made the list: thee oh sees, beach fossils, sonny and the sunsets, King krule, Wavves, flume and Jackson and his computerband. Overall good list guys!

Nolan
December 24th 2013
2:15pm

You forgot Torres.

burnspbesq
December 24th 2013
5:17pm

I suppose that’s a good list if you confine yourself to alternative rock.  But the best records of 2013 weren’t alternative rock records.  Jason Isbell, Wayne Shorter, Sarah Jarosz, The Dunedin Consort, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Robbie Fulks, Gretchen Parlato, and Fred Hersch & Julian Lage all made records that far overshadow the best records on your list (and FTR, I really like the Vampire Weekend record).

Damn
December 25th 2013
10:06am

Wow, this is a horrible list. Some of the top 50 don’t even belong on the list, and some great albums have either been completely omitted or ranked way too low (imo).

Bob B.
December 26th 2013
9:49pm

My top three:
1- The Joy Formidable- Wolf’s Law
2- Veronica Falls- Waiting For Something To Happen
3- House Of Love- She Paints Words In Red

Fred Ziffel
December 27th 2013
12:25pm

Personally I think this is a great list.  There are a lot of titles that you mentioned here that didn’t get any love from many of the other blogs .  Everyone else’s lists seemed like they were looking over each other’s shoulder…I love rap, but I didn’t think much of anything that was put out this year (yes even Yeezus, I appreciate it for what it is and it has some killer tracks, but as a whole, eh). 
I may change some of your rating numbers, but I like much of what you put on here this year, just glad to see you put up what you liked and not what you were supposed to like!

soupr
December 29th 2013
12:09am

Justin Timberlake? Shut the fuck up. Here are some comments over the years I’ve grown to take as a sign of one who does not know shit about good music. 1. “Sexy-Back is a great jam” barf. 2. “JT has a great voice” does he though? compared to what? The raw truth is his voice is average, at best. His falsetto is awful. He has not a shred of originality. Trying really hard to sound like an over produced white boy version of classic early 70’s Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder is not a style. I EXPECT BETTER FROM YOU UTR.

Darion Brunston Martin
December 29th 2013
11:28am

.TECH N9NE. (RAP)

Darion Brunston Martin
December 29th 2013
11:30am

.AVRIL LAVIGNE. (ROCK)

Darion Brunston Martin
December 29th 2013
11:32am

.and thanks for exactly 12 reviews of which i’ll keep secret.

Rachel
January 1st 2014
10:57pm

Hey! Where is Harlequin Dream by Boy & Bear? That should at least be in the top 5. Come on guys ;)

Rick
January 2nd 2014
11:06pm

The Head and the Heart - Let’s Be Still
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Mosquito

Rick
January 2nd 2014
11:12pm

I forgot…

She and Him - Vol. 3
Franz Ferdinand - Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action

jeffort23
January 5th 2014
10:55am

Nice list. My humble thoughts;
http://ludditestereo.com/2014/01/05/best-music-of-2013-5-1/

Taylor
January 9th 2014
7:43pm

What about Jake Bugg?